West Xia Imperial Tombs (Xixia Wangling) [西夏王陵]

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The Western Xia imperial tombs were built for rulers of the Western Xia dynasty, which is also known as the Tangut empire. The Tanguts were non-Han people who spoke a Tibeto-Burman language. Originally nomadic, they settled in the area of modern-day Ningxia, Gansu and Shaanxi, and in 1038 AD established the Tangut Empire, which lasted until 1227 when it vanished, probably destroyed by the Mongols. The Tanguts were Buddhists and invented their own writing system, similar in appearance to Chinese characters.

The Western Xia tombs are spectacular pyramid-shaped structures set on a gentle slope along the east base of the Helan Mountains about 30km from Yinchuan. There are 9 imperial tombs and over 200 smaller ones spread over an area of about 50 sq km. Construction of the tombs was begun in 1038 by the first Western Xia ruler, Li Yuanhao, who built over 70 of the tombs for himself and his family. The Western Xia tombs are arranged to mirror the position of various celestial bodies and it is clear from artifacts found since excavations began in 1972 that the tombs were once as grand as the more celebrated Ming Tombs near Beijing.

The complex of mausoleums and secondary structures on this site is unique. The short round and octagonal tombs are overlaid with glazed green tiles and resemble traditional Buddhist Pagodas. The walls of the various terraces were once painted a vivid red, contrasting with the leafy green mausoleums. Each main tomb was flanked by four corner towers, watchtowers, a sacrificial hall, a coffin platform and pavilions housing stone tablets. Unfortunately many of the features are now eroded beyond recognition. The mausoleums supposed to be those of Li Jiqian and Li Demin (early Tangut rulers), are the most prominent and are reasonably well preserved.

Watchtowers, stone gates, halls furnished in the style of Imperial bedrooms and tall pagodas were once dotted about the complex and can be seen in their partially decayed glory. Sections of the road system used to get around the area are still in place. Bronze oxen, stone horses, gold belts, gilt saddle fittings, gilt amour plates, gilt silverware, bamboo carvings and other sacrificial objects have been found in the tombs in varying stages of preservation.

Reviews (1)

Mar 19, 2013 15:30

An absolute must-see! When you visit these tombs during the off-season, you most likely have the entire site to yourself. The tomb is impressive because of it's pyramid-like shape, and you can see a number of other similar tombs in the distance which aren't open to the public. The backdrop of the Helan Mountains is also quite breathtaking. When you're here, make sure to go into the accompanying museum. It displays artefacts uncovered from the tombs and tells you about the history of the Xia Empire and what the tombs originally looked like. There are a lot of souvenir and antique sellers waiting near the entrance but these are all fake and over-priced so don't give in to temptation and buy them!

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