Saturday, April 9, 2011

Ancient Tombs

On March 27th, I headed out to a local tea plantation to take some photos, drink some tea, and purchase some tea for my tea shops. I was in for more than I bargained for and what was supposed to be a 2 hour tour ended up taking the entire day. I decided to walk to the plantation, since the road to it passes through some villages and stunning landscapes. The villages aren't particularly beautiful, but they're quiet and soothing and the people who live in them are incredibly friendly. I passed a bunch of dogs running around, but saw few people. Most people were working in the fields and the children were in class.

When I was about halfway down the little road, I heard a very strange bird song. I tried to see where it came from and saw, between two buildings, the head of a giant stone statue. I knew immediately what it was. During the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) Dynasties, Guilin was an Imperial city and it had a palace, where princes would oversee the southern part of China. The palace still exists and is near downtown. Located in the countryside, are the tombs where the princes and their family were buried. Only one of the tombs is restored and is open to the public, but the rest are hiding in the countryside. I've tried to find them for years, but they try to keep it a secret because they want to sell tickets for the restored one. Well, for some reason, the tomb that I found had had all the weeds and brush chopped down, so I could see it. I decided to take a detour and visit the tomb.

The tombs have the same basic layout. The tomb complex is surrounded by a wall and the entrance is a huge three-door gate flanked by two stone lions. Inside the gate is what is known as the imperial road. It splits the complex down the middle. On the larger tombs, there are two more roads, one on either side of the imperial road, for government officials and imperial family members. The imperial road is only for use by the Emperor, or Princes. The gate is flanked by pairs of animals, mythological creatures, and government and military officials. The statues are very large and made of solid marble. Occasionally there is a turtle carrying a large stele located in buildings on either side. At the end of the path is a temple for praying and offering sacrifices to the deceased prince. Behind the temple is a large mound, which the tomb is located under. The tomb itself is a two room structure built of bricks. It has two doors. When it is sealed up, it is buried under the burial mond, and no part of it is visible.

All that is left of the tombs now, are the stone statues, stone staircases, shards of roof tiles, and the burial mounds. The outer walls were made of compressed earth and because of the humidity of Guilin, little is left of them other than a slight rise in the ground. You can see where they were, but they are not very high. The buildings had rotted away and collapsed leaving just the roof tiles, which are gone now, except for some shards. I would like to know what happened to the roof tiles because some of them were quite extrordinary, especially the dragons located on the tile ends and on the ridge-line. The imperial road is visible, but the bricks that they were made of are all cracked and broken now. The tomb was surprisingly quiet and desolate. The stone statues are standing on plinths that are three to four feet high, but the ground level has risen since they were constructed, so many of them are actually below the current ground level, and many of the statues are now leaning. The tomb mound has been robbed and the hole where the tomb robbers entered the tomb is still there.

While I was walking around, I saw, in the distance, another tomb, so I high-tailed it over there and started exploring. In all, I found four tombs I had never seen before. The last tomb I visited was gigantic! The layout of the tomb was unique in that it was "L" shaped. Normally, tombs are always in a straight line, but this one was not. It started out like a normal tomb, with a large gate flanked by stone lions, then inside, it went straight for a while, with the path guarded by stone creatures. Then, the road took a 90degree left and kept going, lined by more stone creatures. This tomb had twice the amount of stone statues of the other tombs and the statues were more detailed and much larger. I wish I knew who was buried there. The bottom half of his burial mound was covered with stone rocks, and the temple foundation was very large. I wish I knew more about this tomb. Located near the tomb were fields of tea trees, so I left the tomb, and headed for the tea fields. You can see the fields in the background of the last photo.

To read about my visit to the tea plantation, read my next post.

To be continued....

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