The Qianling Mausoleum – An Important Tang Dynasty Royal Tomb in Xian

Located about 87 kilometers northwest of Xi’an City, Qianling Mausoleum is a co-burial tomb of Emperor Gaozong, who reigned China from 649 to 683, and his queen Empress Wu Zetian, who became the one and only female emperor in Chinese history after the death of Gaozong and governed China for 15 years. This is the first and only case in Chinese history and even quite a rare one in the world. It could be a good destination for your side trip to Xi’an.

Perfectly Merged with the Surrounding Hills

Qianling Mausoleum was constructed around Liangshan Mountain which consists of three peaks with the north one being the tallest measuring 1047.9 meters high. That’s where the main tomb of Wu Zetian stands. The tomb passage, extending 631 meters long and 3.9 meters wide, was tunneled on the hillside leading to the burial chamber deep in the mountain.

The other two smaller peaks are a little to the south and opposite each other on the east and west, just like a natural gate guarding the mausoleum. Getting into the entrance, you can see a flight of stairs paved with stone slates, with 537 steps leading to a flat road called the Sacred Way for approaching the mausoleum shared by Emperor Gaozong and Empress Wu Zetian.

Xianyang Qianling Mausoleum
Qianling Mausoleum around Lishan Mountain

Follow the Layout of Ancient Xi’an City

According to historical materials, the Qianling Mausoleum was originally designed following the layout of the city of Chang’an (the name of Xi’an in the Tang Dynasty). Two sets of city walls divided the mausoleum into the inner city and the outer city.

The tomb is located in the center of the inner city which is encircled by the squarish city wall with 5,920 meters in circumference, and four gates facing the four directions. The outer wall was built along the Liangshan Mountain, extending for 40 kilometers long. That is why the Qianling Mausoleum in Xi’an is thought to be the largest imperial tomb in Chinese history.

Open-Air “Museum” of about 100 Stone Statues

Xi’an Qianling Mausoleum boasts vivid stone statues along the Sacred Way, which extends for 700 meters from two ornamental columns on the south to the feet of a pair of giant stone lions outside Zhuque Gate. On each side stand stone statues of 10 officials, 1 winged horse, 5 horses, and 1 camel, as well as a stone stele.

Besides, you can find groups of figures near the Zhuque Gate, called Stone Statues of 61 Foreign Officials. They represent princes and envoys dispatched by various countries to Chang’an, who followed the funeral procession to the mausoleum to express their condolences on the passing away of Emperor Gaozong.

To commemorate this grand occasion, Empress Wu had their images cut into life-sized stone figures to be aligned on both sides of the passageway. Vivid and lifelike, every figure is decently robed and girdled, standing there in dignified solemnity. Unfortunately, these statues are all headless and it is widely accepted that they were destroyed in a severe earthquake in 1556.

Qianling Mausoleum Xianyang
Stone Statues along the Sacred Way

2 Giant Stone Steles of Emperor and Empress

Stone Stele Dedicated to Emperor Gaozong

In front of the main tomb of Wu Zetian and Emperor Gaozong stand two huge stone steles. The one on the west is the Stone Stele Dedicated to Emperor Gaozong. As its name indicates, this one was set up by Empress Wu Zetian in praise of the virtuous merits and deeds of Emperor Gaozong. Standing 6.85 meters high and 1. 86 meters wide, the tablet rises on a plinth engraved with various patterns of animals and is covered with a gambrel shade.

Carved on the stele was an epitaph of more than 5,600 characters. It was autographed by Empress Wu Zetian but in Emperor Zhongzong’s handwriting. However, with the elapse of over a thousand years, most of the carved characters were weathered and eroded with only a few words remaining on the first, second, and fourth facades.

Wordless Stone Stele

The stele on the east is the renowned Wordless Stone Stele, which is a must-see of Wu Zetian Tomb. As the name implies, there’s not a single word on it. It is said that Empress Wu had a will: “Merits and achievements or not, let the latecomers make their comments.” So the tablet was left blank and empty. Empress Wu didn’t write any biography for herself.

However, visitors may find the tablet is now covered with scratches and scrawls. They are the leftover traces of comments or criticisms made by people during the Northern Song Dynasty to the Qing Dynasty.

17 Accompanying Tombs of Royal Family Members and Ministers

In the southeast of the Qianling Mausoleum, there is a group of accompanying tombs scattered around, where 9 royal relatives and 8 important ministers in the court were buried. Today, the tombs of Princess Yongtai, Prince Zhanghuai, and Prince Yide are open for visitors to have a look at the imperial underground chambers, which could be an unforgettable memory during your Xi’an tour. You can appreciate exquisite murals to learn about ancient royal life, such as competitive sports, hunting activities, and life in the palace.

It is worth noting that near the Tomb of Princess Youngtai is the Qianling Museum where more than 820 pieces of cultural relics excavated from the accompanying tombs are exhibited, including Tang tri-colored glazed potteries, terracotta figures, gold and silver jewelry, and antique vessels.

Qianling Mausoleum Xian
Stone Sculptures in Qianling Mausoleum

Transportation inside Qianling Mausoleum

The whole scenic area is quite large and it might be exhausting to tour around all the sites on foot. If you want to save energy or time, there are sightseeing buses inside and the ticket costs CNY 30.

How do I get to Qianling Mausoleum from Xian?

High-speed railway makes it more convenient to have a side trip to Qianling when you travel to Xi’an.

Visitors can take a high-speed train at Xi’an North Railway Station to Qianxian and the train ride lasts for around 30 minutes. Get out of Qianxian Station and transfer to bus no. 1 to Yaojiagong Lukou or bus no. 2 to Yaojiagong.

Travel information about Qianling Mausoleum


CNY 100 (March to November) in peak season

CNY 80 (December to February the following year) in low season (the ticket includes Qianling Mausoleum, Tomb of Princess Yongtai, Tomb of Prince Zhanghuai, Tomb of Prince Yide, and Qianling Museum)

Opening hours: 8:00-18:00 in peak season

8:30-17:30 in low season

Best time for visiting: April-June, September-October

Nearby Attractions

Famen Temple

Xianyang Museum