Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum lies in the eastern suburbs of Nanjing City at the southern foot of Purple Mountain (Zhongshan) in Nanjing City, Jiangsu Province, with Sun Yat-sen Mausoleum on the east and Plum Blossom Mountain on the south. Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum is a multi-burial tomb of the founder of the Ming Dynasty, Zhu Yuanzhang（1328-1398）and his Empress with a surname of Ma. The posthumous title of Empress was Xiao Ci (filial piety and kindness). Deriving from her title, the mausoleum was named Xiao Ling. Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum is famous for its unique design, its eminent status, its amazing beauty and its magnificent scale, and it is one of the largest imperial mausoleums in China. Although today only parts of the tomb remain, the tomb is still magnificent.
Dated back over 600 years, the tomb’s construction started in 1381 and took 25 year to complete. Its site and structure were chosen by Zhu Yuanzhang himself. The structure of the mausoleum adopted the style of the mausoleums of the Tang and Song Dynasties. Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang made great reforms of the imperial tombs system. He changed the hillock above the ground from the previous traditional style to a rounded shape, canceled the bedroom palace, and expanded the building for offering sacrifice, thus initiating the imperial tomb style of the Ming and Qing dynasties.
Covers an area of 2,970 hectares, the Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum consists of Sacred Way area which starts from the Dismounting Archway and ends at the Gate of the Civil and the Military, and the main body of the mausoleum which includes the Gate of the Civil and the Military, Imperial Tablet Hall, Xiaoling Hall, the Square City, Soul Tower, and Precious Dome (the actual burial site).
At the entrance to the mausoleum, you will see the Dismounting Archway. As a gesture of deep respect, people would get off the horses and sedans at this point in ancient times. Hundreds of steps to the northwest of the archway is the Great Golden Gate, where the imperial wall of the tomb area starts and extends as long as 22.5 kilometers. To the north of the gate is the Tablet Pavilion, commonly called the Sifangcheng, in which is a 8.87 meter-high tablet, called the Tablet of Godly Merit and Saintly Virtue of Xiaoling Mausoleum in Grand Ming Empire. With 2,746 characters, it was erected in 1413 by Zhu Di (the fourth son of Zhu Yuanzhang) for his father Zhu Yuanzhang in memory of his great achievements.
The famous Sacred Way that leads to the mausoleum begins at the Sifangcheng. It is a winding path stretching 1,800 metres and flanked by stone animals and figures. Halfway along the Sacred Way, there are twelve pairs of animals: lions, unicorns, griffins, camels, elephants and horses, winding and extending to more than 0.5 km to guard the tomb. Further ahead there is a pair of decorative columns called Wangzhu in Chinese, and four pairs of huge stone statues, two civil and two military, who have been standing there for centuries to accompany their master who lies beneath.
The Sacred Way is extraordinarily beautiful in the autumn, when the leaves of the arching trees turn golden yellow and the ancient gray statues are dotted with fallen leaves. Lingxing Gate is located at the end of the Sacred Way. Continuing north, you will reach the main body of the mausoleum.
The Gate of the Civil and the Military is the main gate of the Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum. Behind the gate, the first hall you will see is the Imperial Tablet Hall. The hall has 5 valuable steles standing.
Behind the Imperial Tablet Hall is the Xiang Palace (Xiangdian), which was originally called Xiaoling Hall and was the main structure of the mausoleum. It was rebuilt in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) and was smaller in size than the original. Figures of Emperor Zhu and Empress Ma are hanging inside on the wall.
Crossing the bridge behind the Xiaoling Hall, you will see the Square City (Fangcheng) and forested mounded Precious Dome also called Precious City (Baocheng). The Square City is a castle-like building, about 75 meters wide, 31 meters long and 16 meters high. The base of the Square City is shaped like Buddha’s seat with an arched passageway in the middle leading directly to the front wall of Precious Dome. The Soul Tower on top of the Square City, built of huge flagstones, is the highest building in the mausoleum compound. Its roof has been destroyed leaving only the four walls. Behind the Soul Tower stands the Precious Dome which is a round earthen hillock. There are high walls built of flagstones around the Precious Dome as the base, with bricks as the body of the wall. The clay vault, which is 325-400 metres in diameter, is where the emperor and his queen were buried. The underground tomb zone is absolutely well preserved.
Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum is the first imperial tomb of the Ming dynasty and the only Ming Tomb located outside Beijing. Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum is also the milestone in the historical development of Chinese imperial mausoleums and deeply influenced the mausoleum architecture for more than 500 years. Its layout was followed by the thirteen Ming tombs in Beijing. In 2003, Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum, together with the Ming Tombs in Beijing, was listed as a site of World Cultural Heritage by UNESCO.