Situated at the foot of Zijin Shan (Purple Gold Mountain) in the east of Nanjing, the Ming Xiaoling Tomb (Míngxiào Líng, 明孝陵) is the final resting place for Ming Dynasty Emperor Hongwu and Empress Ma. One of China's largest imperial tombs, the 600-year-old site has been named a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site.
Born Zhu Yuanzhang, Emperor Hongwu founded the Ming Dynasty in 1368, at which point he named Nanjing his capital and commissioned the construction of the city walls, the imperial palace, and his future tomb. The tomb took 17 years to finish, and only a part of its original glory survives today, the original grounds having suffered looting and desecration, largely at the hands of the Taiping rebels. The founder's tombs were to be the last sited in Nanjing, as his progeny relocated the capital to Beijing.
If you take the traditional path, you enter along the Sacred Way (shén dào, 神道), also called the Stone Statue Road (Shíxiàng Lù, 石像路), lined with massive sculptures of stylized animals, both mythical and real, as well as statues of imperial officials. Eventually, after a number of zigs and zags over bridges and through gates intended to deter evil spirits (who always travel in straight lines according to Chinese tradition), you arrive at the massive burial mound. Today, the mound is covered with trees, eerily bereft of any indication of the unexcavated imperial treasures beneath it.
If you take the more common modern approach, you'll find yourself immediately at the tomb entrance—it's accessed now via a main road from Sun Yat-sen's Mausoleum, Zhongshan Ling—with the Sacred Way as a logical second stage in your exploration of the grounds. Either way, the majestic remnants of a long-gone era of splendor and power, situated in the peaceful wooded surroundings of Zijin Shan, make for a wonderful few hours of exploration. If you're spending the day on the mountain, you can continue on to Zhongshan Ling or ascend Zijin Shan to visit the Zijin Shan Observatory for a bit of relatively fresh air and commanding views of the surrounding landscape. Alternatively, you can relax at nearby Zixia Lake (Zǐxiá Hú, 紫霞湖).
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