Beijing – Ming Tombs

Wow, this is a bit belated, isn’t it??  I’m so sorry – my last year of grad school kind of put me in a headlock and wouldn’t let go, but I realized I still had some adventures I had not finished sharing with all of you!

While I was in Beijing, I had the opportunity to see some spectacular sites. Considering it has been the capital for the past several centuries, this kinda makes sense, doesn’t it?  Being the most recent capital, many of the sites are still preserved (ie: fewer centuries have passed for said locations to be lost, forgotten, or otherwise destroyed).

One of the places I visited in Beijing was the Ming Tomb.  *cue epic music*

The Ming Dynasty was in power for nearly 300 years (1368 thru 1644) and ruled from Beijing.  There are, in fact, 13 emperors entombed at this site, and it is located outside of the city, deep in the hills in order to discourage tomb raiders  (*coughs* Insert Lara Croft joke here *coughs*)

Admittedly, all the red amidst the green tends to stand out just a bit…

Now, it wasn’t just the emperors who were buried here. They had to have servants in the afterlife, so they brought many of those along with them.  And what’s the point in being the king (emperor) if you didn’t have a few concubines as well?  After an Emperor passed away, the concubines had less than a day to clear out or risk following said Emperor into the tombs.

While it was good to serve the big guy, it was also a dangerous position to be so close in case of his death.

So what was the deal with the archway? You may recognize some aspects of the structure from when I was in the Hudong district, and yes, this doorway was just here without any other buildings or walls to go along with it.

First and foremost, this doorway was intended for the Emperor’s funeral march only, at least going into the Tomb.  Note the four pegs just above the door which represent the highest rank.  Traditionally, when entering, everyone walks AROUND this door rather than through it. Yes, even tourists.

When leaving, you are to pass THROUGH the door.  The lifted area at the base of the doorway is intended to keep the ghosts in the tomb rather than letting them out into the rest of the world, and when you pass through this way, any ghosts following you are stopped.

I asked about why there was a drum here (again, from the Hutong blog, this represents military).

Our tour guide refused to answer the question.  Man, this guy hated me – I asked way too many questions for his taste…

I do need to point out here that the tour guide stopped us. He said, very firmly, that Chinese people do not take pictures with cameras inside the tomb.  And he looked right at me. (of note, I had my camera out and at the ready by this point) I asked him if pictures were ALLOWED, and he said absolutely, but Chinese people do not use cameras here.

Why?  Because it was believed that the souls of the dead would enter the camera, and you would then carry them out into the wide world.

…. please notice how many pictures I still took.  Shhhh….

REGARDLESS!!! On with our tour!

Below is a picture of an alter just on the other side of the Emperor’s Door. The tour guide couldn’t really tell us what it was for, but it was certainly beautiful.

I will also point out that the Chinese were not stupid in any way shape or form.  While following the path towards the main entryway, we passed a number of entryways such as the one pictured below.  These were false entrances, designed to confuse would-be graverobbers.  They would go a short way underground or into the mountain, and you would often come across traps and the like.  These false entryways were all over the place.  Very clever indeed!

Some of the signs were rather confusing in this area. Like the one below.  The part that got me?  “Cellphones are Prohibited During Thunderstorms.” But… why?? Is there something I should know here, folks??

This area was beautiful, and not just with the mountains in the distance.  Stone replicas of the bridges found in the Forbidden City, though I didn’t find the same zodiac present here as in the Palace itself.

But they DID have dragons…

Also, no stampeding…. Just a public safety thing.

So I mentioned before how the Ming Dynasty didn’t exactly do things halfway, even death.  Servants AND concubines were going with these emperors, even into the afterlife, but no, that wasn’t enough.  They were entombed in a literal underground palace.

No, guys, seriously. It was a full palace under there! Even the sign said so!

While not as extensive as the Forbidden City, it was a Palace nonetheless, deep underground and with a number of connecting rooms.

Ok, but really.  The decorations were similar to what was in the Forbidden city, only all of this was done in marble. Archways and massive doors, even these that are gilded in gold.

This is a replica, almost exactly, of entryways you see all over the Forbidden City.

Even now, the individual Emperors are honored.  I was incredibly confused when we came into this room to see a pile of cash on the floor.  These were offerings left for the Emperors by local tourists who came here to visit. Yes, these are the actual tombs where the emperors are buried.

Ah, bad English signs are everywhere… “Please do not coin coins for cultural relics protection.”  I’m pretty sure what they MEAN to say is “don’t throw coins at our dead kings because you’ll break shit.”

Each Emperor buried here had his own throne and various accouterments befitting his rank.  Candles, vases, the works surround each throne, as only befitting.

Not everything stayed in excellent condition.  These pillars were starting to crumble so are preserved here.  

But… didn’t I say something about servants and concubines being buried?  Where are they?? Certainly NOT with the emperors!  But, no, they had a special place for them, stacked here and walled away (they were not always dead when they were buried).    

Apparently, local officials were worried about people throwing themselves off the stairwell going up.  This netting was found in that stairwell, but oddly, not in the one leading down to the palace to begin with.

Again, ancient architects were conscious of the fact that there were likely unhappy ghosts roaming the halls of the Underground Palace so the ghost-step was placed at the exit as well. One can never be too careful with restless spirits.

Not to be outdone, this pillar was found in the last room, the dragon proudly on display. (It’s like it is the symbol of the royal family or something)

While the interior was beautiful – and it truly was – what Emperor, dead or otherwise, would be happy with that view?  It’s all about location, folks, and these guys had a fantastic one. You step out of the Underground Palace, and you are greeted with this view.  It should be noted that all along the ridge of those mountains in the distance is the Great Wall. You could just barely see it from this vantage.

And that’s it, folks!! I hope you enjoyed this tour!

Ok, there was this mural, too, which was equally badass….

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