The Ming Dynasty Tombs are located some 42 kilometers north-northwest of central Beijing, within the suburban Changping District of Beijing municipality.
The site, located on the southern slope of Tianshou Mountain (originally Mount Huangtu), was chosen on the feng shui principles by the third Ming Dynasty emperor Yongle (1402-1424), who moved the capital of China from Nanjing to its the present location in Beijing. He is credited with envisioning the layout of the Ming-era Beijing as well as a number of landmarks and monuments located therein. After the construction of the Imperial Palace (the Forbidden City) in 1420, the Yongle Emperor selected his burial site and created his own mausoleum.
From the Yongle Emperor onwards, 13 Ming Dynasty Emperors were buried in this area. The Xiaoling Tomb of the first Ming Emperor, Hongwu, is located near his capital Nanjing; the second emperor, Jianwen was overthrown by Yongle and disappeared, without a known tomb. The "temporary" Emperor Jingtai was also not buried here, as the Emperor Tianshun had denied him an imperial burial; instead, Jingtai was buried west of Beijing.
The last Ming emperor was buried at the location was Chongzhen, who committed suicide by hanging (on 25th of April 1644), was buried in his concubine Consort Tian's tomb , which was later declared as an imperial mausoleum Si Ling by the emperor of the short-lived Shun Dynasty Li Zicheng, with a much smaller scale compares to the other imperial mausoleums built for Ming Emperors.
During the Ming dynasty the tombs were off limits to commoners, but in 1644 Li Zicheng's army ransacked and set many of the tombs on fire before advancing and capturing Beijing in April of that year.
Presently, the Ming Dynasty Tombs are designated as one of the components of the World Heritage object, Imperial Tombs of the Ming and Qing Dynasties, which also includes a number of other sites in Beijing area and elsewhere in China.