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Home Travel in Henan Longmen Caves (Dragon Gate Grottoes)
Longmen Caves (Dragon Gate Grottoes)
Travel in Henan

Longmen Caves

Located 13km (8 miles) south of the city center, along the banks of the Yi River (yī hé 伊河) which divides Mount Xiang (xiāng shān 香山) to the east from Mount Longmen (lóng mén shān 龙门山) to the west, Longmen Caves (lóng mén shí kū 龙门石窟) are considered one of the three great sculptural treasure-troves in China. In general, the limestone is harder at Longmen than at Yungang (yún gāng 云冈), and the caves closer to the river, making it easier to discern the details but more difficult to see the caves as a whole.

The first caves were carved in the Northern Wei dynasty in AD 493, when the Xiao Wen emperor moved his capital from Pingcheng (píng chéng 平城; today's Dàtóng 大同) to Luoyang. Over the next 400 years, cave art and sculpture flourished, reaching their zenith during the Tang dynasty (AD 618-907) and even continuing into the Northern Song. Benefactors of the Longmen Caves included imperial families, high-ranking officers, Buddhist leaders, and merchants as well as common folk, many of whom could only afford the smaller honeycomb niches.

Longmen entranceToday, there are 2,300 caves and niches with more than 2,800 inscriptions and over 100,000 Buddhist statues on both East Hill and West Hill. About 30% of the caves are from the Northern Wei dynasty (AD 386-584); their statues are more elongated, static, and lacking in complexity and detail than the later Tang dynasty sculptures which account for about 60% of the caves, with their fuller figures, gentle features, and characteristic liveliness. The section of Longmen Shiku currently open to visitors is concentrated in a 1km-long (2/3 mile) stretch on the West Hill side of the Yi River. Morning is the best time to visit the Longmen Grottoes, which mainly face east and catch the light from the rising sun. Try to arrive before 8:00 a.m., to avoid the tour groups which usually descend on the caves around 9:00 a.m..

Following are the best caves of the lot, starting at the entrance and running south. Displays have rudimentary English captions, but even for the most independent traveler, this is one of those times when a guided tour is highly recommended. English-speaking guides are available for hire just inside the main entrance for CNY100. The entrance to the grottoes has recently been restructured so that you have to take a golf cart about 500m (1,625 feet) from the parking lot to the main gate. A round-trip in the golf cart costs CNY4. Once you've toured the first side of the mountain, you will have to either walk across a long bridge to get to the other side, or take a boat for CNY20 per person.

Main Caves & Tourist Route at Longmen Caves

Scenic Spots

Binyang Caves

The Binyang Caves (bīn yáng dòng 宾阳洞), which were ordered to sculpt by Emperor Xuanwu for the purpose of commemorating Emperor Xiaowen and Queen Wenzhao, are of the biggest scale among the grottoes of the Northern Wei Dynasty. They were first chiseled in the first year (AD 500) of the Jingming reign, and completed in the fourth year (AD 523) of the Zhengguang reign, which took 800,000 workers Middle Binyang Caves24 years to accomplish. Inside the caves, there is a statue of Sakyamuni, 8.4 meters high, on either side of which stand statues of two disciples and two Bodhisattvas, which is the typical combined sculpture of the five statues. The statues, with comely appearances and regular pleats of the clothes, evidently represent the artistic style of the Northern Wei Dynasty. On the top of the caves there are the carvings of lotus canopies and free Flying Apsaras. Huge carvings in relief are all over the walls, including four layers of paintings such as the Teaching of Vimalakirti, the Natural Stories of the Buddha, the Paintings of Ten Gods. Besides, there used to be two huge relief sculptures in the cave depicting the grand scenes of the worshipping ceremonies of Emperor Xiaowen and his wife. But, later, these were gone and now are housed respectively by museums in Texas and New York.

Wanfo Caves

Wanfo CavesThe construction of the Wanfo cave (wàn fó dòng 万佛洞), consisting of two rooms and square flat roofs, was finished in the AD 680. This exquisite cave actually contains carvings of 15,000 Buddhas, mostly in small niches in the north and south walls, with the smallest Buddha measuring only 4 centimeters high. Even more remarkable is the fact that this cave was commissioned by two women, an indication perhaps of the comparatively elevated status of females during empress Wu Zetian's reign. To be seen in the cave are small statues of Buddha chiseled in the southern and northern walls. The main statue of the temple is that of Buddha Amida who is seated on the lotus Sumeru throne. Behind the statue, carvings of 54 lotuses with a Bodhisattvas on each are seen. These Bodhisattvas are of different shapes and have different facial expressions. There are also lifelike reliefs of pretty and charming singers and dancers on the wall. Outside the cave, on the southern wall, you can see a carved statue of Bodhisattva Kwan-yin holding a pure bottle in the left hand and deer's tails in the right hand. The deer's tail, in essence is representative of cleansing the dust in spirit.

Lotus Flower Cave

Carved during the NorthernLotus Flower Cave Wei dynasty around AD 527, Lotus Flower Cave (lián huā dòng 莲花洞)'s highlight is a lotus flower, measuring 3m (10 feet) in diameter, carved in high relief on the ceiling. There are six flying musicians around it. These musicians are shown in a varying gestures suggesting that they are dancing along with the music. Representing serenity and purity, lotus flowers are common motifs in Buddhist art. Surrounding the lotus are some faded but still fine apsarases (Buddhist flying nymphs). It is one of those natural limestone caves in the Longmen caves that have chiseled grottoes on the base. A standing figure of Shakyamuni in this cave is symbolic of the long distance covered by Buddhism to reach from India to China.

Fengxian Temple

Fengxian TempleCarved in the Tang dynasty between AD 672 and AD 675, Fengxian Temple (fèng xiān sì 奉先寺) is the largest and most beautiful at Longmen. Originally started by the Tang Gaozong emperor, it was expedited by empress Wu Zetian, an ardent Buddhist, who poured money (from her cosmetics budget, it is said) into its completion, no doubt because the central Buddha's face is thought be modeled on hers. This main Buddha, Vairocana, seated on a lotus flower, is a stunning 17m (56 feet) tall, with a 4m-high (13-feet) head, 1.9m-long (6-feet) earlobes, a wide forehead, a full nose, and serene eyes, which were painted black at one time.

Flanking the Buddha are the disciple Kasyapa (the elder) to the left, and Sakyamuni's cousin, the clever disciple Ananda (the younger), to the right. Beside the disciples are two attending bodhisattvas (Buddhas who delay entry into nirvana in order to help others), Manjusri and Samantabhadra, who are decorated with exquisitely fine beads and ornamental drapes. It is said that this tableau of statues is a distilled replica of the Tang imperial court, with the dignified main Buddha representing the emperor (or empress), the obedient disciples representing the ministers, the heavenly kings standing in for the warriors and soldiers, the richly dressed bodhisattvas evoking the imperial concubines, and the flying devas (spirits) recalling palace maids.

Medical Prescription Cave

Medical Prescription CaveThis small Medical Prescription Cave (yào fāng dòng 药方洞) was first carved in the Northern Wei dynasty but appended in subsequent dynasties. The main Buddha here is a Northern Qi (550-77 BC) creation, its fuller figure emblematic of the transition from the thin Wei figures to the fuller Tang sculptures. At the entrance are stelae carved with Chinese medicine prescriptions for 120 diseases, including diabetes and madness.

Guyang Cave

Guyang CaveFirst carved during the Northern Wei sometime between AD 488 and AD 528, Guyang Cave (gǔ yáng dòng 古阳洞) is the oldest cave at Longmen, though additions were being made well into the Tang dynasty by different benefactors. Nineteen of the famous "Longmen Twenty" (20 pieces of calligraphy deemed especially fine and representative of their time) are found here. The central Buddha's head was restored during the Qing dynasty, and is said to resemble Daoist master Laozi.

Xiangshan Temple

Xiangshan Temple (xiāng shān sì 香山寺), which ranked the first among the ten temples at Longmen, is situated in the middle mountainside of the East Hill. The East Longmen Hill is teemed with spices name "Xiangge", hence the name Xiangshan. Then the temple was named Xiangshan Temple. The present Xianshan Temple was reconstructed in about AD 1707, during the Qing Dyansty, on the basis of an old temple. In 2002, Xiangshan Temple was expanded on the basis of the Qing Xiangshan Temple by Longmen Grottoes Administration, with the Beltry, the Drum Tower, the Wing Room, the Hall of Mahavira and Hall of Nine Persons newly constructed. Besides, the Hall of Arhats, the stele of Emperor Qianlong, the belfry, the Palace of Emperor Qianlong , Wing-room, Eighten Arhats, the Villa of Jiang Jieshi and Song Meiling, Xiangshan Temple the stairs, the plank roads and the bouding wall within the temple have all been remedied. A new gate was constructed to the south of the temple.

The original construction site of the Xiangshan Temple was located somewhere near the former sanatorium of Luoyang Bearing Corporation in the south end of the East Longmen Hill.

Bai Garden

Bai Garden (bái yuán 白园), located on Peak Pipa in the north of the East Longmen Hill (Xiangshan Hill), was reconstructed in Qing Dynasty in AD 1709. It is surrounded by green pine trees and cypress, looking solemn and serene. It was promulgated a key site for protection at the state level by the State Council in 1961. The tomb of Bai Juyi is a round mound of earth, 4 meters high, with a circumference of 52 meters. In front of the tomb stands a tombstone of 2.80 meters high, which reads, "The Tomb of Bai Juyi Tai".

Bai Juyi's TombBai Juyi (bái jū yì 白居易), style name Letian, had his ancestors in Taiyuan, Shanxi Province, who moved to Shaanxi . He was born in AD 772 and died in AD 846. As one of the most outstanding poets in the Tang Dynasty, Bai Juyi enjoyed great fame in the literature field both at home and abroad. He assumed a number of positions in the government and was the teacher of the prince in his later life. When retired, he came to Luoyang and made good friends with "Nine Persons of Xiangshan Hill", who often composed and sang poems at Longmen. Meanwhile, he donated money for the construction of Xiangshan Temple.

When Bai Juyi died, he was buried in the present Bai Garden, according to his will. The important scenic spots in the Bai Garden are Qinggu, Tingyi Pavillion, Letian Hall, Bai Pavillion, Bird's Head Gate, Peak Pipa, Bai Juyi's Tomb, Wogu Tablet, Cuiyue Pavillion, Poem Corridor, Daoshi Reading Room, Songfeng Pavillion, etc. As a garden constructed according to style of the Tang Dynasty, it is a good place to console with the great poet as well as a tourist resort.

Location: 13 kilometres south of Luoyang City
Tel: 0371-65907709
Transportation: Take bus No.53, 60, 81 from the east side of the Luoyang train station. (CNY1.5)
Opening Hours: 7:00 a.m. to 7:50 p.m. (March to October); 
                         7:30 a.m. to 6:50 p.m. (November to February)
Admission Fee: CNY120 (CNY100 for English-speaking guides)
1. Spring and autumn are the best seasons to visit the Longmen Grottoes and Luoyang, this is when the weather is the best. Summers can be very hot and winters bitingly cold.
2. The site boasts not only the grottoes, but also lush mountains and ridges with springs and waterfalls. Two mountains on the both sides of the Yi River are covered are covered with green pines and cypresses, towers and pavilions dot each mountain. A hot spring near the entrance of the west mountain grottoes is a constant 24 °C.
3. Because of its world fame, there will be thousands of people touring around.
4. If you get the chance, do not forget to take a boat and enjoy the nightview of Longmen Caves.
Longmen Nightview