Sacred WayA ~ Z

Introducing the Sacred Way (Shen Lu)

A Sacred Way is always found in an imperial cemetery. The Sacred Way of the Ming Tombs is about 7 kilometers long from the Marble Archway to the gate of Changling and was considered to be the road leading to heaven. It was originally built only for Changling, Emperor Yongle’s Tomb. But since the other 12 tombs were also built in this area, the Sacred Way became the main road for all the 13 tombs. During the funeral ceremony, the coffin of deceased emperor used to be carried through this road. It was considered to be the road leading to heaven. Chinese emperors were known as the Son of Heaven. During their reign they often passed through the sacred road to the sacrificial altar in order to converse with heaven. After their death, the funeral procession also took the path through the Sacred Way as a symbol of the deceased emperor’s journey to heaven in the afterlife.

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Marble Archway

Made of white marble, the Memorial Stone Archway was built in 1540 for eulogizing the meritorious and virtuous deeds of the emperor. As a starting point, the marble archway is the symbol of the tomb area. It is 14 meters high and 29 meters wide. It has 5 arches supported by 6 marble pillars with beautiful relief carvings of dragons, lions, lotus flowers and clouds. It is a masterpiece of carving as well as an embodiment of the great skills of ancient craftsmen. The Marble Archway is the southernmost structure of the Ming Tombs and also the earliest and best-preserved stone archway existing in China. The Sacred Way used to pass beneath the Marble Archway.

Great Red Gate

The Great Red Gate is the main entrance to the tomb area. The gate has three passageways: the central one was for the deceased emperor’s coffin only; the living emperor used the left gate; ministers and royal family members had to use the right openings when they came to pay homage to their ancestors, because in China, the left side is normally considered as the senior side. There used to be a 40-kilometer long wall on both sides of this gate surrounding the imperial cemetery and guarded by soldiers, but most part of it had collapsed. A stele stands on each side of the gate with an inscription reading "Officials must dismount from horses". It means that, from this gate anyone including the emperor should dismount from their horses to show respect to the ancestors.

Tablet Tower

There are four marble columns erected at each corner of the Tablet Tower that served as a sign of the tomb area, so they were also called “Tomb Ornamental Columns”. The Tablet Tower, also called Stele Pavilion, was erected in 1435. Inside of it, there is an 8 meter high stone tablet, standing on the back of a giant stone tortoise. A huge stone tablet standing on the back of a giant stone tortoise is quite often seen in the tomb area in China. The legend goes that: The dragon has nine sons, and none of them becomes a real dragon, but each of them has its strong point. The stone tortoise is one of the nine sons of the dragon which is good at carrying heavy load. Since the emperor always described themselves as a “Real Dragon”, being the son of the dragon, the tortoise was put here to carry the stone tablet for them. The inscription on the front was written by the fourth Ming emperor to record the story of his father Emperor Zhudi. It tells Zhudi’s expedition to Nanjing, moving the capital from Nanjing to Beijing, his battle with Mongols in the desert to the north of the Great Wall. The inscription on the other three sides was written by Qing Emperor Qianlong. And they recorded the deteriorated condition of the Ming Tombs and expenses in repairing them. Also it tells why the Ming Dynasty collapsed.

Stone Statues

The custom of putting up stone statues in front of the imperial cemeteries started as early as 2,000 years ago. It shows the supreme authority and dignity of the emperor. And the stone statues served as ceremonial guards. There is a pair of stone columns standing at the beginning of the road of the stone statues. Their surfaces were carved with cloud design and served as beacons to guide the soul of the deceased. There are altogether 36 stone statues, 24 stone animals and 12 stone human figures. There are 6 kinds of animals, 4 in each group, 2 of them standing and 2 kneeling down; meaning they are taking a shift to guard the tomb area. Each animal had its own significance. Lions symbolized force, Xiezhi stood for justice, camels represented the ancient transportation means, elephant was a symbol of universal peace, Qilin was for warding off evil spirits, and horses were used in battle and for expedition. The stone human figures are: four military officers, four civil officials and four meritorious officials. They were supposed to protect the dead emperor just as loyally as when the emperor was alive.

Dragon and Phoenix Gate

The Dragon and Phoenix Gate is also called “Flame Gate”, because the flame carvings on the top of it. It is located at the end of the road of the stone statues; beyond the gate are paths to the separate Ming Tombs. The gate represents the “Heavenly Gate”, which means by going through this gate, the deceased emperor would be able to ascend to heaven. The thirteen Ming Tombs are located to the north of the Dragon and Phoenix Gate.

Opening Hours

08:10-17:50 (Apr. - Oct.)

08:30-17:00 (Nov. - Mar.)


Entrance Fee:

¥ 35 (Apr.-Oct.)

¥ 25 (Nov.-Mar.)


Changchi Road, Changping, Beijing



50 KM

Getting There

It’s better to book a private car for round trip, Taxi drivers normally don’t go there

Travel Tips

Normally drivers would drop you off the South Gate then wait nearby the North Gate

Last Updated

2018-05-03 23:26:23

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