A medium-sized town, about 450 kilometer northwest of Lanzhou and 150 kilometer southeast of Jiayuguan, Zhangye has always been an important stopover for caravans and travelers on the Silk Road. Today it's still worth stopping, especially if you have time for a visit to the Buddhist Mati Si, 60 kilometer south of the town.
During the Ming period, Zhangye was an important garrison town for soldiers guarding the Great Wall, and today the road from Wuwei to Zhangye is still a good place from which to view the Wall, visible for a large part of the way as a slightly sad and crumbling line of mud ramparts. Initially it runs to the north of the road, until, quite dramatically, the road suddenly cuts right through a hole in the Wall and continues on the other side. Although Zhangye is not generally an attractive town, there are a number of places that offer at least a day of sight-seeing. The center of the town is marked, as in many Chinese towns, by a Gulou (Drum Tower) at the crossroads. The tower, built in the Ming dynasty (1507), has 2 tiers and houses a massive bronze bell. The 4 streets radiating out from here, Bei jie, Dong Jie, Nan Jie and Xi Jie, are named after their respective compass points, and most of the sights are in the southwest of town in the vicinity of the Zhangye Hotel.
Located in the southwest corner of Zhangye, the Giant Buddha Temple is the largest architectural relic in Gansu Province of the Western Xia (1038-1227) period. China's largest reclining Buddha is well preserved in this temple. The Zhangye Museum is also located here. Legend has it that a chancellor named Wei Mie of the Western Xia period ordered workers to dig into the ground to 1 to 1.3 m deep to carve a reclining Buddha to be covered with glazed color tiles. The Giant Buddha Temple was built in 1098 to house the Buddha. In its 900 years the temple was restored many times during the Ming and Qing dynasties.
The existing complex consists of the Giant Buddha Hall, the Buddhist Classics Hall, and a Clay Pagoda. The 2-storied Giant Buddha Hall is 33 m, 49 m wide and 24 m long, with a total area of 1,770 square m. The gold-plated and painted Giant Buddha lies in the Nirvana situation in the middle of the hall. The whole Buddha is 34.5 m long and 7.5 m wide between its 2 shoulders, with feet of 4 m and ears of 2 m. The Buddha's calm expression moves visitors. Behind the Buddha are 10 disciples, and in 2 side halls stand 18 Saintly Warriors. In the Buddhist Classics Hall, there are more than 6,000 tomes of lectures, some of which, written in gold and silver, are the rarest and most precious.
The Clay Pagoda, one of the Five Elements Pagodas in Zhangye, has 13 stories, on the first and the second stories of which are 4 miniature pagodas, a feature rarely seen in other pagodas.
It is said that the Bieji Queen (a famous queen of the Yuan dynasty) once lived in the Giant Buddha Temple, giving birth to Kublai Khan there. The Italian traveler Marco Polo, impressed by the magnificent architecture of the Giant Buddha Temple and by the prosperity of Zhangye city, lived here for more than a year.
Magnificent, mysterious, and unique, the Giant Buddha Temple belongs on every visitor's itinerary.
This temple was built in early 557-588 AD of the Northern Zhou dynasty. Records show that the pagoda had been renovated several times during the dynasties of Sui, the Tang, the Ming and the Qing. Located in the south street of Zhangye County Government, the present Wooden Pagoda has been well kept since 1926, which is regarded as one of Zhangye City's 'Five Elements' Pagodas. (Metal, wood, water, fire and earth are the 'five elements' in ancient Chinese philosophy and fortune-telling).
The pagoda is actually a 9 storey building with a height of 32.8 m. It has a unique octagon shaped structure in each tier with 8 dragonhead woodcarvings in each angle, a bead in the mouth, and a wind-bell below the neck.
The main body is made of wood with eaves formed into pavilion style structure. Within the pagoda, each floor has doors, cloisters, engraved windows and lintels, which were embedded with brick carved steles. It has a distinction unique from other pagodas because neither a nail nor a rivet can be found in the entire structure. Ascending to the top, you can get a panoramic view of the surrounding city.
Other than its distinct feature, it is also considered magnificent. Nowadays, Zhangye Folk Customs Museum is located in the Wooden Pagoda Temple, which forms a more complete architectural building complex.
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