The Sacred Passage

Beez Neez
Skipper and First Mate Millard (Big Bear and Pepe)
Sat 12 May 2018 22:57
The Sacred Way to the Ming Tombs
 
 
 
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About an hour or so from Beijing and into the countryside of farms, fruit growers and a backdrop of mist-covered hills, we arrived at The Sacred Way, but first we had to run the gauntlet of sales ladies. As you can see from the picture, the stalls looked deserted – one and a half steps toward the entrance gate, cunningly placed beyond said leviathans.......who appeared faster than lightning. It took full bravery, nerves of steel and a keen need to say “No thank you” several times to reach the safe zone.
 
 
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Inside the metal gate, phew, we stopped in front of the first map to get our heart rates back to within ‘normal’ bounds.
 
The information read: The Ming Tombs. Situated at the foot of Tianshou Mountain of Changping District, Beijing, the Thirteen Ming Tombs is the cemetery complex of the 13 emperors of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Covering an area of 80 square kilometres, it is about 50 kilometres away from Beijing proper.
Construction of the Thirteen Ming Tombs started in 1409 and ended in 1644, when the Ming Dynasty collapsed. It took altogether 200-plus years to build these tombs, including 13 imperial tombs, 7 concubines’ tombs and a eunuch’s tomb.
Compared with other Chinese imperial tombs, the Thirteen Ming Tombs is conserved well. It boasts high historic and cultural values due to its grand architecture, complete system and long history. Since the founding of the People’s Republic of China, the Party and the government put a premium on repair and maintenance of Tombs for the purpose of cultural heritage protection. The Thirteen Ming Tombs was promulgated (now that’s a word I don’t type very often.......) by Beijing Municipal Government as one of the first batch of key ancient architecture and cultural heritage conservation sites in 1967. It was listed as key cultural heritage under national protection in 1961. The surrounding area of the Tombs was announced as a national key scenic spot by the State Council in 1982. It was recognized as one of the best 40 scenic spots in China by National Tourism Administration in 1991. The Thirteen Ming Tombs was evaluated as “the imperial cemetery complex conserved intact with the most emperors buried in the world” by the “World Top on Beijing Tourism” selection and evaluation committee. It was rated as an AAAA scenic spot by the National Tourism Administration in 2001. Additionally, the Thirteen Ming Tombs was inscribed as world heritage at the 27th session of UNESCO World Heritage Center on July 3, 2003. After reading that.....are we going to a tomb. No, the closest one is about seven kilometres walk from here so we don’t have time........well, now I did need a sit down in a darkened room head plunged between palms..............So why are we here ??? To bimble the Sacred Way. OoooooooooooKaaaaaaaaayyyyyyyyyyy.
 
 
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Oh Lord, another sign: The Sacred Passage. The Changling Sacred Passage is called the chief sacred passage because all the sacred passages leading to other tombs in the complex branch out from here. The passage began to be constructed in the 10th year of Emperor Xuande’s reign (1435) and then got reconstructed in the 19th year of Jiajing’s reign (1540) of the Ming Dynasty. The Stone Archway, the Great Read Gate with Dismounting Steles on both sides, the Divine Merit and Sage Virtue Stele Pavilion, the Stone Sculptures, the Dragon-Phoenix Gate, the Five-Arch Bridge, Seven-Arch Bridge (I couldn’t help it, I just shouted Bingo) and other buildings are lined from south to north (and we are bimbling north to south – go figure......), looking magnificent. Among the, the Divine Merit and Sage Virtue Stele Pavilion, the Stone Sculptures, the Dragon-Phoenix Gate are the core structures along the passage. The stone carving, gravely modeled, accords with the solemn atmosphere of commemoration of the mausoleum complex and achieve a very high artistic level (I need to strangle a cherry right now as it makes a change from crushing a grape.....).
 
 
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Oh, we only did the signs and maps and we look right to see the first gate is quite a stroll.
 
 
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Lingxing Archway, also named Dragon-Phoenix Gate or Arch of Flame, symbolizes the Gate of Heaven. A carving of a flaming pearl decorates the horizontal board over the doorway leads to the popular name “Arch of Flame”. Since the departed emperors and empresses were carried through this gate to their burial sites, it is named “Dragon-Phoenix Gate”.
 
 

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Having now lost the will over the signs, I stepped off the path to enjoy a cotinus coggygria or smoke bush tree.
 
 
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The first four chaps were, in fact, quite impressive.
 
 
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All were intricately carved all those years ago and stand through all weathers......
 
 
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Bear leapt at the chance to pose with each statue. A pair stands each side of the path but he skipped down the right-hand side for each different chap. These horses certainly have sturdy legs.
 
 
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Bear still not too sure about a mythological unicorn or xiezhi.......with two horns. It’s not right and it’s not seemly, no wonder they didn’t catch on and take the world by storm. Agreed Dear, agreed, so pleased you got that off your chest.
 
 
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The trigger finger came out on Nelly while his friend look on stoically. The laying down animals take over the watch at midnight, resting during the day whilst the standy-up chaps are on watch.
 
 
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I got in on the camel kind.
 
 
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Quite noble sorts.
 
 
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I guess we are about half way at this point down the one kilometre path.
 
 
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These fellas were entirely fed up with their hair-dos. “Not at all manly or in keeping with our kind” one told me. The lions with the bad perms brought us smoothly to the end of the guardians. Unwilling to type anymore from information boards or pamphlets, I would this next piece on the internet. Whoever wrote it, I am most grateful:

In the front part of the imperial necropolises, there usually is a Sacred Way (or Divine Road) which means the road leading to heaven. The Emperor, known as the Son of the Heaven, who came from Heaven to his country through the Sacred Way, also deservedly would return to Heaven through this road.
The Sacred Way is often lined with stone statues which are important decorations of the mausoleum. These statues are usually 12 human figures (including the general, civil officials and meritorious officials) and 24 animals which are lion, camel, elephant, xiezhi (a mythological unicorn), qilin (one of the four "divine animals, the other three are dragon, phoenix and tortoise), and horse. There are 4 of each of these animals: two standing and two squatting with different meanings. Lion symbolizes awesome solemnity because of their ferocity. Camel and elephant are meant to suggest the vastness of the territory controlled by the court, because they are dependable transport in desert and tropics. Xiezhi was put there to keep evil spirits away, because it was believed to possess the sixth sense to tell right and wrong. If two men fight, a xiezhi would gore the wicked one. Qilin, an auspicious symbol, was placed on two sides. Horse, as the emperor's mount, is absolutely indispensable. It is said that these animals is supposed to change guard at midnight.Among the many Sacred Ways, the one of Ming Tombs' is best preserved and complete. The Sacred Way starts with a huge stone memorial archway lying at the front of the area. Constructed in 1540, during the Ming Dynasty, this archway is the earliest and biggest stone archway existing in China today.

 

 

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After the guardians, Bear posed and was quite concerned about the jaunty angle of this one of the two Roof Pillars on each side of the road, whose surfaces are carved with the cloud design, and tops are shaped like a rounded cylinder. .

 

 

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The Shengong Shengde Stele Pavilion............

 

 

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A big boy when you see Bear who just photo-bombed to the left of the picture. Lovely from the sunny side.

 

 

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...........inside it, there lies a 50-ton tortoise carrying a stone tablet.

 

 

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A white marble Huabiao (ornamental pillar) is positioned at each corner of the stele pavilion. At the top of each is stationed a mythical beast facing either inward or outward, expressing hope that the emperor will neither cling to the palace nor forget to return to the Palace to handle state affairs.

 

 

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 The analytical bit in me insisted on adding the information board for completeness. After a wonderful time at the Great Wall and a really enjoying the Sacred Passage, our feet declare it time to head back to our digs.
 
 
 
 
ALL IN ALL A SMASHING BIMBLE THROUGH THE GUARDIANS
                     A LOVELY, QUIET PARK-LIKE PLACE