Diary of a Rambling Antiquarian

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Zuzhou Stone House

This morning I visited the Qingzhou White Pagoda and Qingling Mausoleum in Bairin Right Banner, and now I am in a taxi on my way to Lindong in Bairin Left Banner. But we are taking a detour to visit the the tomb of Abaoji (907–926), the first Emperor of the Liao dynasty (916–1125), posthumously known as Emperor Taizu (太祖). His tomb, known as the Zuling Mausoleum (祖陵), and the adjacent city of Zuzhou (祖州) established to service the mausoleum, are situated 20 km southwest of Lindong, at a place called Shifangzi (石房子) "Stone House", named after the most notable feature of the tomb complex.

On the main road heading northeast towards Lindong we see the road sign to Shifangzi, and turn north up a small road (祖州路) 10 km from our destination, which after a while suddenly turns into not-a-road. The erstwhile road is in the process of being completely dug up and remade by massive machines, and is evidently closed to public traffic. But this does not deter my driver, and we make our way on and around the destroyed road across the worst road conditions that I have ever encountered, fighting for space with huge lorries in clouds of dust so we can hardly see anything. I feel sure that the taxi's axles will break, or at the very least we will end up with four flat tyres, but eventually we reach the end of the not-road unscathed.

Google Maps view of Shifangzi and Zuzhou

{Map data ©2019 Imagery ©2019 DigitalGlobal}

(The red tag marks the Stone House; the entrance is highlighted in green)

Entrance to the Zuzhou ancient city and Stone House

Looking back from the start of the paved path towards the Stone House

Paved path leading up to the Stone House

{BabelStone CC BY-SA 3.0}

Earth wall marking the southwest boundary of the Zuzhou city

{BabelStone CC BY-SA 3.0}

Earth wall marking the northeast boundary of the Zuzhou city

{BabelStone CC BY-SA 3.0}

Aside from the earth walls tracing out the shape of the ancient city of Zuzhou, the only feature of note is the enigmatic white building made from huge slabs of stone that stands timelessly in the northwest corner of the city. Nobody knows when it was built or by whom or for what purpose. Was it already ancient when Zuzhou was built on this site? Was it the reason why this location was chosen as the final resting place of Abaoji? The front slabs are covered in simple engraved patterns that lead some to believe that it played a rôle in early Khitan shamanistic practices. To me it looks more like a burial chamber that was perhaps once covered by an earthen mound.

View of the Stone House from the path

{BabelStone CC BY-SA 3.0}

Closer view of the Stone House

{BabelStone CC BY-SA 3.0}

Engraved designs on front walls

{BabelStone CC BY-SA 3.0}

Engraved design on back wall

{BabelStone CC BY-SA 3.0}

Engraved design on right wall

{BabelStone CC BY-SA 3.0}

Engraved design on inside back wall

{BabelStone CC BY-SA 3.0}

Looking towards the tomb of Abaoji

{BabelStone CC BY-SA 3.0}

Stone statues of a man and a dog

{BabelStone CC BY-SA 3.0}

Granite statues unearthed from the "spirit way" (神道) at the Mausoleum of Emperor Taizu (Abaoji) in 2004 (originally just the man's shoulders were showing above ground). Now on display in the entrance hall of the Liao Shangjing Museum in Lindong.

Fragments of Khitan Large Script monuments

{BabelStone CC BY-SA 3.0}

Fragments of Khitan Large Script monuments found at the Mausoleum of Emperor Taizu (Abaoji) in 1966. Now on display at the Liao Shangjing Museum in Lindong.

If we had arrived earlier in the day, and I was not constrained by my taxi driver following me about, I would have spent a few hours exploring the Zuzhou site, and would certainly have walked up to the location of Abaoji's tomb, but my driver is keen to go home now, and nags me to leave now that we have seen the Stone House. Not for the first time today, I feel that I have acquiesced a little too easily to his demands. We arrive in Lindong in the early evening, and I settle into my hotel room feeling very pleased that I have managed to see two great architectural monuments, but with more than a hint of chagrin that I got so close to the tombs of four Liao emperors but failed to actually see any of them close up. I consider trying to go back to Shifangzi tomorrow to explore more thoroughly, but I doubt that any taxi drivers here will risk their cars on the closed road, so instead decide to revisit Lindong North Pagoda and the Liao Superior Capital.

Posing with the Stone House


Historic sites | Inner Mongolia | Liao dynasty | Tombs

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