At roughly the same time that the practice of building tombs was mostly dying out in Europe, an exquisite series of tombs was being built in China during the Ming Dynasty. At the start of the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644), the capital was Nanjing, but the second emperor moved the capital to Beijing and chose a site 30 miles north of the city to build his own tomb. Thirteen of the 17 emperors of the Ming Dyansty were buried in this valley, along with their empresses and second wives. The Thirteen Tombs (Shih-san Ling in Chinese) were built over a period of more than 200 years, from 1409 until 1644. It took 18 years to build the first tomb alone.
The Thirteen Tombs are situated on a large complex, the entrance to which is a long path, a shen dao (spirit way), which is lined with oversized statues of guards and animals, real and mythological. The Ding Ling tomb is the most famous of the tombs and has been the most thoroughly excavated. It has three underground chambers, including the burial chamber, and thousands of artifacts, such as silks, jewels and utensils, have been unearthed here.
The Ming Dynasty is widely regarded as one of the most important eras in Chinese history, a time of great prosperity and progress in government. The Ming emperors established an impressive administrative system and army and oversaw major architectural projects, including the construction of the Forbidden City, the grandiose Ming palace in the center of Beijing. As a monument to the achievements of the Ming emperors, the Thirteen Tombs today continue to draw many tourists, who come to enter the tombs themselves and to view their artifacts in an adjacent museum built in the Ming Dynasty architectural style.