En route back to Beijing from Badaling Great Wall, we stopped off at the Ming Tombs on the outskirts of Beijing. There are 13 tombs in total, spread over a large area, but due to time restrictions we only visited the largest one – the Changling Mausoleum.
Our tour started with a walk along the Sacred Way, a walkway between 36 large stone statues of various animals and people.
The walk brought us to the Changling Mausoleum, the final resting place of the third Ming emperor, Zhu Di, also known as Emperor Longye (the Emperor of Eternal Joy). As well as being the largest of the Ming tombs it is also one of the best restored – being partially evacuated to allow visitors to enter the Grand Hall underground and the burial chamber itself. Inside the great hall, we saw some of the 3,000 artefacts unearthed here, including a huge statue of Emperor Longye.
While we were there, we were fortunate to witness a traditional-style ceremony honouring the emperor, in which colourful monks and actors dressed as soldiers with splendid flags carried out a mock sacrifice. It did feel a little put on for the tourists, but even so was a nice insight into how local people traditionally worshipped the emperor.
Although I personally wouldn’t list the Ming Tombs as a must-see in Beijing if you are short of time, it is worth a stop-off en route to Badaling Great Wall and many tour groups will visit them. That being said, if you are more interested in architecture than history, just visiting the Forbidden City should be enough.