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Home Travel in Shanxi The Yungang Grottoes
The Yungang Grottoes
Travel in Shanxi

             Yungang Grottoes

Brief Introduction

The Yungang Grottoes (yún gāng shí kū 云冈石窟), together with Longmen Grottoes (lóng mén shí kū 龙门石窟), and Mogao Grottoes (mò gāo kū 莫高窟) are the three major cave clusters in China. The Yungang Grottoes lie on the north cliff of Wuzhou Mountain (wǔ zhōu shān 武周山), Datong (dà tóng 大同). They occupy 1 km (0.62 miles) from east to west, and hold 53 caves and over 51,000 stone statues. There are three zones of the grottoes. Caves in the eastern parts are mainly made up of pagodas. Small and mid-sized niches are in the west caves. In addition, visitors can see many front and back chambers with Buddha status in the middle caves. All the walls and ceilings are covered by embossing. As excellent examples of rock-cut architecture, in 2001, the Yungang Grottoes became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. According to UNESCO, they are a "masterpiece of early Chinese Buddhist cave art...represent the successful fusion of Buddhist religious symbolic art from south and central Asia with Chinese cultural traditions."

Yungang Grottoes
Originally, the carving of the grottoes was a link between the imperial sponsors and the Buddhist community. During the Northern Wei Dynasty (běi wèi 北魏), they made Pingcheng (píng chéng 平城), now called Datong as capital city, and adapted Buddhism as state religion. Through the ancient North Silk Road (běi sī chóu zhī lù 北丝绸之路), Buddhism arrived in Pingcheng (Datong).

The Yungang Grottoes absorbed Indian Buddhist art, and combined with traditional Chinese art. They were China’s first major stone carved grottoes, and have a history of over 1,500 years. During the reign of Emperor Xiao Wen (xiào wén huáng dì 孝文皇帝) in Northern Wei Dynasty (386-534), a monk named Tanyao (tán yào 昙曜) was responsible for the construction of the Yungang Grottoes. The most significant work on the grottoes was completed during 460 to the early 490s. The move of the Northern Wei capital from Pingcheng (Datong) to Luoyang (luò yáng 洛阳) in 494 ended the intense period of construction and carving. Some repairs continued during the Sui (suí 隋) and Tang (táng 唐) dynasties, and important restorations were carried out in the 11th and 12th centuries.

Major Caves
The Yungang Grottoes include a variety of vivid religious figures. Moreover, there are a lot of different shaped wooden constructions, sculptures of the Buddhist story, and carvings of ancient musical instruments.

Caves No.1 & No.2
Caves No.1 and No.2 are best preserved among all caves. A square tower is in each center of the caves with various Buddha carved on four walls. They are regarded as important materials to research Northern Wei architecture.

Caves No.5 & No.6
Flying ApsarasFlying ApsarasCave No.5 and No.6 were interlinked together, forming a double cave. The largest Buddha statue located at the center of Cave No.5, which is 17 meters high. The sculpture of "Flying Apsaras " (fēi tiān 飞天) was carved at either side of the Cave arch door. A 15 meters (49.2 foots) high, 2-storeyed square pagoda stands at the center of Cave No.6. A Buddha statue decorates on the top of the pagoda. Meanwhile, Jataka (běn shēng jīng 本生经) of Buddhism is carved both on the walls and the four faces of the pagoda, which is the essence of the Yungang Grottoes. There are also many statues of Sakyamuni (shì jiā móu ní 释迦牟尼) in different postures, and facial expressions. With skillful works of art, Cave No.6 is the most magnificent and typical cave.

MaitreyaCaves No.9 - No.13
The structure of Cave No.9 and Cave No.10 is like a square, consisting of a front room and an inner room. The walls of the front room and the door of the inner room are carved with fine plant designs. An epigraph created in 483 AD located in 95th area at Cave No.11. On the ceiling of Cave No.12, carved female musicians, holding panpipe, pipa, flutes, and drums etc. A 13-meter-high, cross-legged statue of Maitreya (mí lè fó 弥勒佛) is in Cave No.13. Four vajrapanis (jīn gāng shǒu 金刚手) supported his right arm.

Cave No.18Caves No.16 - No.20

Caves No.16 to No.20 are famous as Five Caves of Tan Yao (tán yào wǔ kū 昙曜五窟). They were the earliest caves constructed under Tan Yao’s direction. Five statues of Emperors Daowu (dào wǔ 道武), Mingyuan (míng yuán 明元), Taiwu (tài wǔ 太武), Jingmu (jǐng mù 景穆) and Wencheng (wén chéng 文成) in Wei Dynasty were depicted as living Buddhas. The style of the statue in Cave No.18 is dignified but lively, in No. 19 is handsome and elegant, while in No.20 is martial and stately. There are some similarities as well, such as their thick lips, big noses, slanted eyes and broad shoulders. Although it was difficult to identify precisely of each statue, the five major figures still reflected the outlines of the five emperors.

Admission Fee: CNY 60
Opening Hours: 8:00 to 17:00
Transportation: Take bus No.4 at Datong Railway Station to Xinkaili (xīn kāi lǐ 新开里) (Cost: CNY 1), and then transfer to bus No.3 (Cost: CNY 1.5), which terminates at Yungang.

1. The best visit time is during May to October.
2. Minimum recommended time for a visit is half day. It is better to view them briefly first, then with more careful visit, and finally find a spot where you can take a panoramic view to see them all.