Imperial Tombs

Historic Site in Xi'an

Image by Lim Tiaw Leong Shutterstock

A large number of imperial tombs (皇陵, huáng líng) dot the Guānzhōng plain around Xī’ān. They are sometimes included on tours from Xī’ān, but most aren’t so remarkable as to be destinations in themselves. By far the most impressive is the Qián Tomb, where China’s only female emperor, Wu Zetian (AD 625–705) – from when Tang dynasty Cháng'án was at its cultural zenith – is buried with her husband Emperor Gaozong, whom she succeeded.

The long Spirit Way (神道, Shéndào) – an outdoor, paved path leading to the imperial tomb – is lined with enormous, lichen-encrusted sculptures of animals and officers of the imperial guard, culminating with 61 (now headless) statues of Chinese ethnic group leaders who attended the emperor’s funeral. The mausoleum is 85km northwest of Xī’ān. Tour bus 2 (¥25, 8am) runs close to here from Xī’ān train station and returns in the late afternoon.

Nearby are the tombs of Princess Yong Tai (永泰幕, Yǒng Tài Mù) and Prince Zhang Huai (章怀幕, Zhāng Huái Mù), both of whom fell foul of Empress Wu, before being posthumously rehabilitated. Other notable tombs are the Zhao Tomb, where the second Tang emperor Taizong is buried, and the Mao Tomb, the resting place of Wudi (156–87 BC), the most powerful of the Han emperors.