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Qianling Mausoleum


Location: QianXian County, Xianyang Prefecture (neighboring Xi’an)
Host: Emperor Gaozong of Tang and Empress Wu Zetian

Qianling Mausoleum is the joint burial tomb of Emperor Gaozong of Tang and his wife, China’s only ruling empress Wu Zetian. Like Zhaoling Mausoleum, Qianling was built against a mountain, too. The main tomb chamber is located within the northern hill of all three in the area; the two in the south are named Nipple Hills due to their shape, between which runs the “spirit path”.


Qianling Mausoleum, Qian Mausoleum, China Emperor Mausoleums

A bird's-eye view of Qianling mausoleum seen from the northern hill where the main tomb is located.

The coffin chamber still awaits excavating. Visitors now only have access to the surface structures (stone works) and the tomb chambers of a few satellite tombs surrounding the Emperor’s main tomb. Visitors are to feast their eyes with the skills of Tang Dynasty carvers. There are elegant and exquisite ornamental pillars, delicately-lined winged horses in a flaying gallop, sturdily carved propitious birds and beasts, majestic helmeted and garbed bodyguards, and so on. In the tomb chambers, walls and ceilings of the passageways are adorned by paintings which feature rich and extensive themes.

The most impressive item is the “uncharactered stele” in memory of Empress Wu Zetian. It is said that the Empress made the deathbed will to have her stele so made because “My achievements and errors can only be evaluated by later generations. So, there is no need to carve any single word on my stele.”


Qianling Mausoleum, Qian Mausoleum, China Emperor MausoleumsQianling Mausoleum, Qian Mausoleum, China Emperor Mausoleums

"Uncharactered Stele" dedicated to Empress Wu Zetian. The fact is later people did inscribe on it.

The array of stone figures, mostly headless due to robbery or other reasons.

Also hard to miss are a total of 61 stone figures on the right side of the spirit path – figures of ethnic minority chieftains and foreign envoys who attended the Emperor’s funeral, a testimony to the Tang Empire’s greatness.

Evidence suggests, excitingly, that Qianling Mausoleum may be one of the few royal mausoleums that have remained intact from grave robbery. A debate has been going on over whether conditions permit the excavation with little damage to the cultural relics inside. Since the founding of PRC in 1949, archaeologists have repeatedly filed proposals to start excavating the main tomb chamber, only to be rebuffed by China’s central authorities.

However, many of the totally 17 satellite tombs, where some other royal members and important ministers of Emperor Gaozong’s time are buried, have been excavated, and large quantities of precious relics have been unearthed. A Qianling Mausoleum Museum has been built at one of these satellite tombs to showcase these items.


Qianling Mausoleum, Qian Mausoleum, China Emperor MausoleumsQianling Mausoleum, Qian Mausoleum, China Emperor Mausoleums

Tomb chamber of an excavated satellite tomb of Qianling Mausoleum.

Colored murual in tomb chamber of an excavated satellite tomb of Qianling Mausoleum.


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