Zhaoling Mausoleum, Shaanxi

Zhaoling Mausoleum: the Tang Era History Thesaurus

The Zhaoling Mausoleum is the largest out of the 18 Tang dynasty mausoleums, known to date. It is also the largest mausoleum in the world. The mausoleum is located in the central part of Shaanxi Province, 80 km to the north of Xi'an, covering an area of about 20 hectares. Its construction was started in 636 by Emperor Li Shimin (also known as Emperor Taizong) after the death of Empress Wende. He ordered to lay an underground passage in Jiuzong Mountain, chosen for the construction, to connect the foot with an underground palace.

The construction of Zhaolin continued after the death of Emperor Taizong who died in 649. It lasted 107 years till 741. After the burial of Li Shimin next to the Empress, the entrance to the mausoleum was sealed. Since that time many centuries passed when it was decided to began digging on the mausoleum site. During the study, the researchers found 190 graves of emperor’s attendants, favorite generals, concubines, officials and an abundance of wealth. The Zhaolin tomb artifacts are associated with a detective story, worthy of a suspense movie synopsis.

Li Shimin (599-649), one of the smartest and most dignified emperors in Chinese history, loved horses. At the beginning of the construction, he told his best craftsmen to carve stone sculptures of his six favorite steeds, who were next to him in his most successful battle during the formation of the Tang dynasty.

Each of the horses Sa Lutszy, Maogua, Shi Fachi, Bai Tiu, Tae Tsinpyao and Qing Chzhui were masterfully executed in the form of relief sculptures on six 2x1.5 m stone screens. The six beautiful horses immortalized in different poses looks strong and energetic. It seems that another second and they will step down from the screens. The bas-reliefs were installed near the altar in the Zhaolin Mausoleum. Each of the horses has their names and the emperor’s sayings engraved on them.

The priceless bas-reliefs attracted the attention of art historians, tourists and thieves as well. Thus, in 1914, an American stole two horses Ca Lutszy and Quan Mogua and brought them to the United States.

They are kept in the Museum at the University of Pennsylvania up to this day.

Four years later, some American thieves tried again to steal the remaining four sculptures, but were caught at the border. The relics were returned, but unfortunately, to make the transportation easier, the thieves managed to split the bas-reliefs on the individual parts, some of which were immediately missing. Now the remaining fragments of plates are stored in the Xi'an Museum of Beilin.

In addition to the six stone horses, stone, wood and ceramic figurines of the Tang era, highly artistic haut reliefs of great historical and cultural value were also found in Zhaolin.

In 1961, the Zhaolin Mausoleum was included in the Chinese list of nation-level sights. In 1979, the dig site was used to set up the Zhaolin Museum to display the ancient relics of the tomb.
The Zhaolin Museum, housed in 4 large pavilions, has over 8,000 artifacts, including golden and silver jewelry, household items made of bronze and porcelain, etc.