The “Sacred Way”
As you begin to approach the site by car, the first sign of the tomb area is a white marble portico with five gateway located off the road to the right. It was once entry point of Sacred Way. Note the fine bas-relief carvings Forming the base of the pillars. The portico was built in 1540.
A little further on you will come to the Big Red Gate, or Da Hong Men, which is a massive edifice about 120 feet high. There are three gates: the two on either side were used by the living rulers, and the central gateway was used only to carry the corpse of the dead emperor into the Sacred area. This huge gateway was once part of a wall which enclosed the area. No one was allowed to enter under pain of death, except of course the officials and attenders who resided there permanently, nor was anyone allowed to enter on horseback. After passing down the avenue a shoe way you win come to a twin-roofed pavilion with a single archway in each side leading to an open inner chamber homing a stele. This is the Stele Pavilion, or Pei Ting. The stele is about 30 feet high and stands on the face of a giant tortoise about 6 feet high. There is an inscription on one face of the stele by the forth Ming emperor and on the other by the fourth Qing emptor, the famous Qian Long. Outside at each of the four corners of the building stands a large marble column with a dragon carved in bas-relief and a mythical beast perched on top.
A few hundred yards further the famous Avenue of Animals begins Stone animals had first been placed before tombs during the reign of me Hen (206B.C.-A.D. 220), and the custom was adopted by the rulers of all the dynasties that followed. At the Ming Tomb site there is a row of animals on either side of the road, one pair Ming spaced equidistant from the next pair along the route. There are six animals represented in all: a lion. a mythical animal called the xie chi. a camel, an elephant. another mythical beast called a qi lin, and a horse. Each animal is shown in a standing and a kneeling position. In all. there are 12 statues on each side of the road, a total of 24,
In accordance with the traditions of geomancy, the Sacred Way turns slightly to the right, and reveals a row of six statues of mandarins dating from the fifteenth century on either side of the road. First there are two military mandarins with swords, next two civilian mandarins holding tablets, and finally two retired mandarins. The exact significance of the statues is not clear, but they are thought to have been crated in order to serve the dead emperor and his wives in the next world.
Beyond the Avenue of Animals stands a very small portico with three gates, the road passing on either side of it toward the sites of the 13 tombs.