Location: 23 km northeast of Liquan County, Shaanxi Province
Host: Li Shimin, Emperor Taizong of Tang Dynasty
Zhaoling Mausoleum is the tomb of Emperor Taizong (599~649) of Tang, one of the model, most successful, emperors of Imperial China.
With a circumference of 60 km and a total area of 20,000 ha, Zhaoling is the largest royal mausoleum in China and the world. Emperor Taizong had been the actual founder of the great Tang Dynasty, and surrounded himself with a host of brilliant generals and ministers, many of whom, as a paramount honor for their service to the Tang Empire, were to be buried in the near two hundred “satellite tombs” surrounding the emperor’s tomb. The Emperor’s tomb is set deep within the steep, magnificent Jiuzong Mountain, overlooking the satellite tombs from a higher level as if the Emperor is still presiding over a meeting with his ministers. Of the 18 emperors of the Tang Dynasty, 14 of these had natural mountains serving as the earthen mounds for their tombs
Zhaoling Mausoleum. The Emperor's tomb chamber is built within a mountain. Compared with previous practice of heaping earth to form a big tomb, this was a precedent starting from Emperor Taizong. Though the original purpose of so doing was, according to the will of his much-acclaimed Empress Zhangsun, “to hold a simple and thrifty funeral”, the tomb chamber turned out as luxurious as any.
The mausoleum was a grand engineering project spanning over a decade. Famous painters Yan Liben brothers were among the chief designers of the tomb which features meticulousness and flamboyance in style. Quantities of gold and silver treasures were packed to accompany the deceased emperor, as well as caskets of paintings and books that the Emperor liked. It is said that among the collections was China’s top work of calligraphy Lan Ting Ji Xu (Anthology of Poems Composed at the Orchid Pavilion Party by Wang Xizhi). The Emperor was so fond of it that he would like to go on enjoying it after death.
Like most other royal mausoleums, Zhaoling Mausoleum have suffered from tomb-breaking and looting, the most notable of which was masterminded by a warlord in the Five Dynasties (907~960) period. He broke into the tomb and saw the underground palace which was just as splendid as the royal palaces in capital Chang’an.
Few surface structures survive today. However, a large number of cultural relics have been unearthed at Zhaoling Mausoleum. Around 60 steles have been excavated, bearing important historical data. The engravings contain excellent works of calligraphy by early Tang calligraphers such as Ouyang Xun and Chu Shuiliang. Another impressive group of relics are the six stone sculptures in relief, named “Six Steeds of Zhaoling”. These are six armoured war horses that the Emperor had ridden in battles, in memory of his military achievements as well as the horses’ distinguished services. (Currently, two of these six steed sculptures are preserved in the museum of the University of Pennsylvania, US, while the rest in the Shaanxi Provincial Museum.)
Relief Sculpture: Six Steeds of Zhaoling Mausoleum, images of war horses that had carried the Emperor. The two at the bottom are now preserved at the museum of the University of Pennsylvania, US.
Steles are often carriers of excellent Chinese calligraphy. This is especially true with Zhaoling Mausoleum, where handwritings of celebrated early Tang calligraphers are recorded on the stones.
Besides steles and steed sculptures, large quantities of utensils and pottery figurines have been excavated at Zhaoling. These relics are silent records of the history and culture of early Tang Dynasty. A Zhaoling Mausoleum Museum has been built at one of the “satellite tombs”, where over 8,000 pieces of relics are preserved.
An official hat unearthed in one of the "satellite tombs" of the Zhaoling Mausoleum.
Colored murals on the walls of the tomb chamber.
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