Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum

The Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum (Chinese: 明孝陵) is the tomb of the Hongwu Emperor, the founder of the Ming Dynasty. It lies at the southern foot of Purple Mountain (Chinese: 紫金山; pinyin: Zĭjīn Shān; literally "Purple-Golden Mountain"), located east of the historical center of Nanjing, China. Legend says that in order to prevent robbery of the tomb, 13 identical processions of funeral troops started from 13 city gates to obscure the real burying site.

The construction of the mausoleum began during the Hongwu Emperor's life in 1381 and ended in 1405, during the reign of his son the Yongle Emperor, with a huge expenditure of resources involving 100,000 laborers. The original wall of the mausoleum was more than 22.5 kilometers long. The mausoleum was built under heavy guard of 5,000 military troops.


The sacred way started from Sifangcheng (Rectangular city) which was a pavilion where a splendid carved stone stele in the memory of the Hongwu Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang was erected. The stele, known as the "Shengong Shengde Stele" (神功圣德碑), has an inscription in honor of the Hongwu Emperor written by his fourth son, the Yongle Emperor. Standing on top of a giant stone tortoise (5.15 m long, 2.54 m wide and 2.8 m tall) and crowned by intertwining hornless dragons, the well-preserved stele stands 8.78 m tall (including the toroise) and is one of the best-known examples of its genre. The roof of the Sifangcheng pavilion no longer exists, however.

In the middle of the 1800-meter-long winding sacred way, 6 kinds and 12 pairs of animals guard the tomb. Beyond them is a pair of decorative columns called huabiao in Chinese. Four pairs of ministers and generals of stone have been standing there for centuries to accompany His Majesty beneath.

On an inscribed stone tablet outside of the gate of the mausoleum, an official notification of the local government in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) is ordered to protect the tomb. Inside the gate, there is a pavilion in which 5 steles stand. The one in the middle, also mounted on a stone tortoise, is inscribed with 4 Chinese characters, "治隆唐宋", which were written by the Qing Dynasty's Kangxi Emperor on his third inspection tour of the South in 1699. The text is interpreted as alluding to the greatness of the Ming Dynasty founder Zhu Yuanzhang, matching (or surpassing) that of the founders of the Tang and Song Dynasties of old.

Behind the pavilion, there used to be other annexes; however most of them have collapsed into relics from which the original splendor can still be traced. The emperor and his queen were buried in a clay vault, 400 meters in diameter. On a stone wall surrounding the vault, 7 Chinese characters were inscribed, identifying the mausoleum of Emperor Ming Taizu (respected title of Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang). The mountain to the south of the tomb, known as Meihua Shan ("Plum Flower Mountain"), is the mausoleum of Sun Quan, King of the Kingdom of Wu in the Three Kingdoms period (220-265). The existence of this tomb is the reason why the Sacred Way is not straight.

The mausoleum complex suffered significant damage during the mid-19th century Taiping War, but was mostly restored during the Tongzhi era thereafter.

In 2003, along with the Ming Dynasty Tombs north of Beijing, the Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum of Nanjing was inscribed by UNESCO as part of the World Heritage Sites "Imperial Tombs of the Ming and Qing Dynasties".

The mystery of the third tortoise

In 1999, another, unfinished, stone tortoise and an unfinished stele lying on the ground were discovered in a ravine just over 100 m to the southeast from the Sifangcheng Pavilion, and even closer to Madame Chiang Kai-Shek's former villa (known as Meiling Gong). The tortoise, larger than those under the Shengde stele and the Kangxi Emperor's steles, and the matching blank stele were recognized by experts as being products of the early Ming, but the reasons for their manufacture and abandonment became subjects for speculation among historians. A number of possible explanations - from faulty material to the overthrow of the Jianwen Emperor by the Yongle Emperor in 1402 - have been advanced. In the meantime the tortoise and the blank stele (无字碑) have been moved to the Red Mansions Cultural Park (红楼艺文苑, Honglou Yiwen Yuan), located just east of the Ming Xiaoling complex.

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