Situated in Jiuzong Mountain which is 22.5 km northwest of Liquan County, Shaanxi Province, about 70 kilometers from Xi’an, Zhaoling Mausoleum is the tomb of Li Shimin (599-649), Emperor Taizong of the Tang Dynasty. It is the most representative royal mausoleum of the Tang Dynasty and also the largest imperial mausoleum in China with the most attendant tombs.
Zhaoling Mausoleum established a precedent for building imperial tombs on mountainsides in the Tang Dynasty. It is clear that to build tombs in this way was not for frugality and simplicity but to demonstrate the ruler’s power and stature through the magnificent mountain and also to prevent looting and grave-breaking. Another important reason for Li Shimin to build the tomb on Mt. Jiuzhong is because of its good fengshui. The steep Jiuzong Mountain is 1,188 metres above sea level, with the Jingshui River winding across the front and the Weishui River flowing at the rear. So we can see, Jiugong Mountain has the best fengshui.
The construction of Zhao Mausoleum was a huge project, lasting for about 107 years from 636 AD when the Empress Zhangsun was first buried in Zhaoling Mausoleum to 743 AD. The imperial burial ground covers an area of 200 square kilometers with a circumference of 60 kilometers. Historical data tell us Zhaoling’s underground palace was tunneled into the mountain. The tomb passage, about 230 metres long, was guarded by five stone gates. The tomb chamber, as luxurious as any, is flanked by eastern and western wings in which are arrayed stone boxes containing sacrificial objects.
More than 180 attendant tombs of Li Shiming’s concubines and daughters, distinguished court officials and generals fan out from the imperial tomb. Highest of all on the mountain, Li Shimin’s tomb occupied the commanding position while attendant tombs were placed on either side, lower on the mountain, indicating the Emperor’s supremacy. Each attendant tomb had its own archway and inscribed stone tablet as courtiers felt honored to be buried with the Emperor.
In 1979 the Zhaoling Museum was set up in the graveyard of the attendant tomb of Prince Li Ji. The Zhaoling Museum is a treasure house that keeps a collection of nearly 8,000 pieces of cultural relics. In the museum there are two display rooms devoted to stone inscriptions (known as Stele Forest at Zhaoling Mausoleum), a display room devoted to choice cultural relics and a display room devoted to murals from the Tang Dynasty.
Tang calligraphy occupies an important place in the ancient Chinese treasure-house of culture and art. The 40-plus stone inscriptions displayed in the Stele Forest demonstrate the brilliant achievements of calligraphy in the Tang Dynasty. The Stele Forest is called “Gallery of Calligraphy of the Tang Dynasty” and the “third greatest stele forest in China”.
The exquisite relief sculptures of “Six Steeds of Zhaoling”, containing a variety of postures and expressions, succinct and powerful lines and vivid shapes, are rare cultural relics and indicative of accomplishments of ancient China’s sculptors. Having carried Li Shimin through battle after battle and distinguished themselves in action, the six armored horses were sculpted into six stone steeds to commemorate the Emperor’s achievements on the battlefields and in memory of his beloved war horses. The “Six Steeds of Zhaoling” were carved on 2.5-metre-high by 3-metre-wide stone slabs and arrayed in rows on the eastern and western verandas of the northern gateway. On display in the museum are replicas of the six stone steeds. Two of the Steeds are now preserved in the museum of the University of Pennsylvania in the United States, the other four are in the Shaanxi Provincial Museum.
On display in the museum are also murals from Tang tombs, three-color glazed pottery, pottery human figurines, gold and silver vessels, bronze mirrors, beast statues, and a crown with three ridges on the top. The crown is the only one of its kind found so far in China.