The Sacred Way stretches 7 kilometers from south to north through the center of the tombs area. It was originally built for the first tomb Changling - the tomb of Emperor Yongle, the most powerful emperor in the Ming dynasty. But as the later tombs were built either to the right or to the left, it became the main road to all of them. They formed one group, but each tomb is independent of the other. Each lies at the foot of a hill.
The Sacred Way or Divine Road means the road leading to heaven. The Emperor, known as the Son of the Heaven, who came from Heaven to his country through the Sacred Way, also deservedly would return to Heaven through this road.
This road is often lined with stone statues of men and animals as important decorations of the grounds. These statues are usually 12 human figures (including the general, civil officials and meritorious officials) and 24 animals which are lion, camel, elephant, xiezhi (a mythological unicorn), qilin (one of the four "divine animals'', the other three are dragon, phoenix and tortoise), and horse.
Each animal has its own symbolic significance. The lions are the symbol of power because of their ferocity. Xiezhi symbolizes justice, because it is said to be able to distinguish right and wrong. Qilin is a sort of imaginary animal with a scaly body, a cow's tail, deer's hooves and only one horn on its head. It presents auspices. Elephant is meant to suggest the vastness of the territory controlled by the court. Camel is a symbol of transportion.
A slight turn of the Sacred Way leads to the human statues. Even this slight turn is in conformity with the principle of Feng Shui. On each side stand two generals, two civil officials and two officials of merit, 6 on each side, and 12 in all. They are larger-than-life-size human statues.
These animals and statues all date from the 15th century. They do give people a sense of solemnity on the way leading to the Tombs.
Before the avenue of stone animals and statues, there also are some places which deserve to have a sight. These are The Memorial Arch, The Big Red Gate and The Tablet House.