The Qianling Tomb is where the third Tang-dynasty emperor and his empress were buried together. The third emperor was Li Zhi and his empress was Empress Wu Zetian. This is the most representative among the eighteen Tang-dynasty tombs and the best preserved. It is located on top of Liangshan (Liang Mountain), six kilometers north of Qian County City in Shaanxi Province, around eighty kilometers from Xi an. The scope of the tomb is very large with the precincts of the tomb and gardens totalling an area of 2,400,000 square meters.
On the grounds of the Qianling Tomb, what one mainly sees today are extremely beautiful stone carvings that stand on top of the hill. They are arrayed in a line leading from the 'crimson sparrow gate' to the north and mark the 'way of horses and grooms,' the double line of statues leading up to the tombs.
The first pair of stone carvings are symbolic and indicate that this is a tomb; then come a pair of war steeds and crimson swallows. The steeds have cloud-pattern curling on their haunches, as though they were flying amidst the clouds. The crimson sparrow is depicted using high relief, with strong, beautiful carving. According to legends at the time, this mythical bird was sent as a funeral gift to commemorate the emperor from the king of what is now Afghanistan. It carried the symbolic meanings of both homage and protection, and so was carved into the stone before the tomb.
Next come five pairs of stone horses, on which are carved saddles, stirrups and other equine accouterments. Originally each pair had stone grooms leading them but now only three remain. Behind the horses are ten pairs of retainers waiting on the emperor. They wear tall crowns and have broad-sleeved long robes that are belted at the waist. Their hands hold daggers and they look forbidding as they guard the tomb.
Two rows of stone stelae come next, with one on the right that is blank: it holds no characters or writing. This was put up on the orders of Empress Wu Zetian just before she died. She noted that her merit surpassed what later people could judge, and so they were not to write anything on the stele. It stands 6.3 meters high, and 2.1 meters wide, 1.49 meters in depth. Another stele, in contrast, holds some 8,000 characters, all of which were inlaid in gold after being carved so that their message could shine out over the empire. The text extols the civilized rule and military power of Emperor Gao Zong.
Behind the stone tablets on the right side of the horses and grooms way is a row of sixty-one stone statues of men. Almost all of their heads have long since been destroyed, but two remain to show us what they once looked like: these men had high noses, deep-set eyes, and were clearly people of Central Asia.
Two stone lions standing before the crimson swallow gate represent the finest works of sculpture at the Qianling Tomb. These are very large and ferocious: with curling fur, protruding eyes, open mouth and sharp teeth, they exhibit all the authority and power of the Tang dynasty.
According to historical documents, a number of accompanying tombs surrounded the Qianling imperial-tomb precinct. These were mostly robbed in antiquity but certain superlative works of art remain that can be seen at this museum. It is well worth a visit.
More Museums in Shananxi Province