May 8, 2005
A museum outlining the geography of the tombs and some of the artifacts recovered from Ding Ling was our first point of call. A scale model helped us orientate ourselves, but we had more enthusiasm for some of the fantastic jewellery and headwear that was on show.
Another small museum, more like a hall of fame, photographically showed visiting statesmen to the tomb – interesting, but it didn’t really grab my attention. Whereas on the opposite side of the walkway, a like-sized hall gave an insight into the excavation processes and some macabre photos showing the actual opening of the empress’ tomb. There were numerous artifacts on display, each with a short description.
However, the exciting part of the complex was the walk from the Giant Bixi protecting the entrance into the huge manmade mound that protected the final resting place of the emperor and his two empresses. En route, we stepped onto a couple of raised platforms that were original sites of royal mansions. They were rebuilt after a fire on a much smaller scale, but were totally destroyed in the uprising of 1911. Here there has been no attempt to rebuild, but simple plaques describe the plot and point out the significance of the building’s footings.
Next, we meander our way up the gentle slope to the mausoleum’s entrance. A modern air-conditioned atrium awaits us, with officious guards undertaking security checks of on everyone. Having walked up, we now take a route down into the depths of the tomb. The staircase seems never-ending, and then we’re in a completely empty hallway. There is speculation amongst historians as to whether or not has been totally plundered, but generally the view is that this was intended for "lesser family" who would have died before the emperor and be entombed in advance. The area was apparently not required!
Moving through, the next hallway housed the thrones of the emperor and his empresses, and at the bottom was the vault where they were finally laid to rest. Replica coffins on raised daises were surrounded by 26 boxes that had contained the royal and sacred favourite items. The vaulted ceiling was an amazing structure and the exit from the tomb marked was by a massive ornate door, which, on closure, was bricked in for added security.
Having studied this large, cavernous space, which was totally devoid of wall decorations, we emerged into the daylight and climbed short hill to view the pagoda and the surrounding panorama. A large plain in front of us lead to the magnificent mountains in the distance.
There were no magnificent paintings, gilding, or carvings at Ding Ling, but the extravagantly simple mausoleum gives an interesting contrast to other sights we’d seen.
From journal Visiting Outer Beijing