Qianling Tomb, Shaanxi Attractions

Qianling - the Mausoleum of Emperor Gaozong and Empress Wu Zetian

The Qianling Tomb is located 80 km from Xi’an, north from the Wei River on Mount Liang. This is the only mausoleum, where buried not one, but two emperors. Qianling was built in 684 for Emperor Gaozong (628-683) of the Tang Dynasty and Empress Wu Zetian (624-705) who were spouses while alive.

It is important to note that Wu Zetian was more than a wife of the emperor, and the first female ruler, who officially headed the state for 15 years. Before Wu Zetian, there was no such precedent for the two-thousand-year history of feudal China.

The life of two emperors, who sat enthroned side by side, was shrouded in legends. We know from history that Wu Zetian, born in the year 624, at the age of 14, became a concubine of the second emperor Tai-Tsung of Tang Dynasty. After his death, she became a concubine of his son Gaozong. Cunning and intrigue, Wu Zetian made the emperor's wife disgraced and took her place.

Qianling Tomb, Shaanxi vicinity Qianling Tomb, Shaanxi vicinity Qianling Tomb, Shaanxi vicinity

Since that time, Wu Zetian got seriously involved in state affairs, gradually relegating her husband to the sidelines. After the death of Gaozong, Wu Zetian dethroned his two sons, and at the age of 67 years, founded the Zhou Dynasty, having put out of the way all the Tang heirs. While in power, Wu Zetian brutally and ruthlessly dealt with the enemies, without any exception to her closest relatives. But at the same time, she made history as one of the most intelligent and wise rulers. Under her emperorship, the state continued to flourish, the production – to develop, Queen’s peace – to prevail in the society, this period was even marked with several successful military campaigns. Wu Zetian paid great attention to the development of agriculture and social status of women, limited the influence of her relatives, and advanced the talented and young to top management positions.

We Zetian, who died at the age of 82, was buried in the Qinling Mausoleum next to her husband. This underground mausoleum was carved in Mount Liang, ideally suited for this purpose because of its pyramidal shape. This method of construction of imperial tombs began spreading under the Tang dynasty. Prior to that, mausoleums were dug under the ground and mounded on the top. However, it was a very long and expensive process, so beginning from the Tang emperors and later dynasties, the tombs for them were cut in the rocks.

Qianling Tomb, Shaanxi vicinity Qianling Tomb, Shaanxi vicinity Qianling Tomb, Shaanxi vicinity

The Qianling Mausoleum was being built for 30 years. It is the only tomb of the Tang Dynasty, which had not been looted. Vandalism was prevented by a complex design of the mausoleum, and all entries and cracks in the walls being filled with lead. Once, having 378 galleries and pavilions, the mausoleum was surrounded by a 24 m-high double wall, fitted with four gates on each side. Unfortunately, time has destroyed both the walls and the galleries, but it is still possible to walk along the ancient Alley of the Spirits or Sima road, adorned with 103 stone statues.

On the way to Qianling, one can see numerous stone statues of lions, winged horses, and birds on the Sima road. The first stone sculpture that greets visitors is carved Huyabao columns. Columns traditionally decorated the majority of complexes and tombs in China. The Alley of Spirits has 61 sculptures of foreign ambassadors, leaders of national minorities and ministers. The peculiar feature of these figures is that all the statues were once beheaded. Who and why has done is still unknown.

The mausoleums of Emperor and Empress have steles established near it. The Emperor Gaozong Stele, 6.3 m high and about 2 m wide, is devoted to the numerous monarch’s governmental and military achievements. While the Wu Zetian 8m-high stele is covered with skillful designs, but contrary to tradition, has no epitaph.

Qianling Tomb, Shaanxi vicinity Qianling Tomb, Shaanxi vicinity Qianling Tomb, Shaanxi vicinity

There are two popular versions to this effect. According to the first one, Wu Zetian boasts with her merits, so numerous that it is impossible to list them on the stele. While the other version claims that Wu Zetian provided her descendants with an opportunity to evaluate her deeds, which were rather ambiguous. In any case, by her extravagant decision, Wu Zetian has been attracting worldwide attention for 12 centuries, even after her death, keeping on relegating her husband - the emperor to the sidelines.

The Qianling Tomb is surrounded by many graves of the imperial family members, as well as those of the distinguished dignitaries, generals and officials. The guests can visit five small graves, for example that of Prince Zhang Huai or 17-year-old beauty princess Yong-Tai, insidiously killed by her crown-bearing grandmother.