The Sacred Way is the first attraction of Ming Tombs. It consists of the stone arches, the Great Red Gate, stone statues,etc. It was built in the year of 1540 and was the main road leading to the thirteen tombs. A sacred way is always found in an imperial cemetery. The sacred way of the Ming Tombs is 7.3 kilometers long from the marble archway to the gate of Changling. The main structures along the sacred way are: the marble archway, the great palace gate, the tablet tower, the stone statues and Lingxing gate.
The great palace gate is the main entrance to the tomb area. The gate has three passageways: the central passageway was for the deceased emperor’s coffin only, the living emperor used the left gate, the ministers and the imperial family members used the right side when they came to pay respects to their ancestors. There were two stone tablets, placed on each side of the gate, inscribed with the words: officials and others should dismount from their horse backs. So it was called “dismount stele”. Nobody could enter the gate on horseback. It shows the respect to the royalty. The tablet tower is about 600 meters north of the great palace gate. Inside the tower there is a big stone tablet on the back of a big stone tortoise. The big stone tablet is inscribed with the words: the tablet of divine merits and sagely virtue of Changling of the great Ming. An inscription of 3000 Chinese characters is carved on the front side. It records the life story of emperor Zhudi .The inscription of 30-line lament over the Ming tombs on the back side was written by Qing emperor Qianlong.
The stone statues along the sacred way are altogether 36, with 24 stone animals and 12 stone human figures. There are 6 kinds of animals, 4 in each group. The first group of animal is lion in the front, followed by camel, elephant, qilin and horse. They are in pairs; one pair is standing and the other pair is kneeling down. The stone human figures are: 4 military officers, 4 civil officials and 4 meritorious officials. The stone statues were put here served as ceremonial guards. Lingxing gate is also known as dragon and phoenix gate, it is located at the end of the road of the stone statues. The gate here represents the heavenly gate, it means by going through this gate he would be able to ascend to heaven. The 13 tombs are behind this gate.