Ming Tombs

The Shengong Shengde Stele Pavilion
The Shengong Shengde Stele Pavilion

Many years ago, on the way back from the Han Village I stopped with a friend at the Sacred Way that leads to Shengong Shengde Pavilion. 

It was early evening and the grounds were about to close. Once in, we explored as much as we could before the air grew cold and it was time to leave. As you can see, the quality of the light was outstanding.

Set in the foothills of the Jundu Mountains (军都山; Jūndūshān) the Sacred Way of the "Ming tombs" (more accurately, 明十三陵, the thirteen tombs of the Ming Dynasty) was built in 1424 by the Yongle Emperor.

For eight hundred years most of the tombs fell into decay. It was after the Second World War that Chinese intellectuals proposed exacavating one of the tombs. The exercise was a disaster. While centuries old silk and valuables were recovered, there wasn't the expertise to preserve them. Neither was the archaelogical detail recorded correctly. Worse still, at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution in 1966, youthful Red Guards raided the tomb and adjacent museum, pulled out the mummified remains of the emporer and his queen, denounced them and burned them. After this sorry episode, the Chinese government forbade any further excavation. Which did make me reflect, perhaps this is a society that doesn't trust itself?

In 2003 the tombs were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This was an attempt to create an asset for tourism, to protect the sites for historical purposes, and at the same time to keep rampant land developers at bay.


May 2005. Canon EOS Digital Rebel, ISO 100 & Canon EF 20mm lens. Resolution 3072 x 2048 pixels (6.3MP). Settings: contrast, saturation and sharpness set to 1. A couple of photos have have the tone curve tweeked, but the majority are straight-from-camera jpegs. It's a good performance from the first digital SLR under $1000.