Located on the eastern slopes of the Helan Mountains, some 35 kilometers west of the city of Yinchuan, the Imperial Tombs of Xi ("Western") Xia, aka the Western Xia Mausoleum, cover an area of about 50 square kilometers. The grounds on which the tombs are located stretch roughly 11 kilometers from north to south, and roughly 4½ kilometers from east to west, a vast area by any standard. The tombs comprise 9 royal mausoleums and 250 tombs of imperial relatives and court officials.
The Western Xia state – not to be confused with the much older Xia (BCE 2000 ca. – 1500) Dynasty, China's first dynasty, or the end of the prehistoric and the beginning of the historic period in China – was an area of northern China that comprised parts of present-day Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region (aka Inner Mongolia), Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region (aka Ningxia), and Gansu, Shanxi, and Qinghai Provinces. The Western Xia state came into being in CE 1038 – though the Tangut, who eventually founded the "break-away" state of Western Xia, had lived in the area at least as far back as the Tang (CE 618-907) Dynasty, when they were known by the Chinese as the Dangxiang. The Western Xia state fell in CE 1227, when it was definitively conquered by Genghis Khan and his Mongol hordes.
The Tangut were a nomadic Qiangic-Tibetan people who no longer exist as an independent ethnic group, though they were descendants of, as are the Tibetans, the Qiang ethnic group, which group still exists in China, albeit only in limited numbers. It is believed that the Tangut, having developed an open society, simply allowed themeselves to be assimilated into the larger mainstream Chinese society after their independent state was toppled by the Mongols. However, from the scale of the Western Xia Mausoleum, we know that Tangut rulers were proud and saw themselves in an almost pharaoh-like light – indeed, in 1993 a journalist writing for the Chinese newspaper, People's Daily, referred to the the Imperial Tombs of Western Xia as "Chinese Pyramids".
Tangut rulers both emulated their Chinese counterparts (Tangut tomb architecture is believed to be inspired partly by Song (CE 960-1279) Dynasty tomb architecture but mostly by the much earlier Tang Dynasty tomb architecture, since a non-independent Tangut state had existed contemporarily with the Tang Dynasty, i.e., as a part of the Tang Dynasty, which dynasty had far-reaching influence in its day, both in philosophy and in the arts, including in architecture) and scorned them. For example, when the local Tangut ruler, Li Yuan Hao, broke away from Chinese rule in CE 1038, establishing the Western Xia state, he changed the family name, Li – which had been bestowed upon the Tangut "royal lineage" by the rulers of the Tang Dynasty, who all had the family name of Li – back to the original Tangut "royal" family name of Weiming.
Each royal tomb consists of (in the following order as one approaches the tomb): a pair of free-standing towers facing each other; a pair of pavilions with stele describing the history of the entombed ruler; rows of life-sized human and animal sculptures in stone, standing immediately in front of the inner spirit wall that encloses the tomb compound; the just-mentioned rectangular inner spirit wall, with an elaborate gate that opens onto the tomb compound (there are four such gates, one on each side, though the other three are less elaborate, and additionally, there is a tower at each corner of the inner spirit wall); an offering hall; the emperor's tomb itself, which has an octagonal base (as opposed to Chinese imperial tombs, which typically have a square base); and finally, an outer spirit wall that encloses the tomb compound on three sides (the entrance path (aka spirit path) is open, with the free-standing towers and the stele-pavilions not walled in, either by the inner or the outer spirit wall).
At present, only two tombs are open to the public, of which the mausoleum of Emperor Hao (the mausoleum of Weiming Yuan Hao) is the most prominent.