Luoyang - Longmen Caves
The world-famous Longmen Caves are located 12 kilometer south of Luoyang. Here 2 mountains, namely, East Hill (Mt. Xiangshan) and West Hill (Mt. Longmen), confront each other with the Yi River traversing northward between them, just like a pair of Chinese gate towers. So during the Zhou and Qin dynasties, it was called "Yi Que" (Gate of Yi River). Later, when the Sui established its capital city in Luoyang, the palace gate was just facing Yi Que, hence the name "Longmen" which means "Dragon Gate".
Spanning a length of over 1,000 meter on the hillsides along the Yi River, the Longmen Caves, together with the Mogao Grottoes in Dunhuang (Gansu Province) and the Yungang Caves (Shanxi Province), are reputed as the 3 greatest stone sculpture treasure houses in China. In the year 2000, Longmen Caves was listed by UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage Site.
The Longmen Caves were first sculptured and chiseled around 493AD when the capital of the Northern Wei dynasty was moved from Datong to Luoyang. The entire construction of the caves lasted more than 400 years through the Northern Dynasties, Sui dynasty, Tang dynasty and up to Song dynasty.
Today, there are still 2345 caves and niches, 100,000 Buddhist images ranging in size from 2 cm to 17.14 meter, more than 2800 inscribed tablets, and 43 Buddhist pagodas remaining in both East Hill and West Hill. Altogether 30% date from Northern Wei dynasty, 60% from Tang dynasty and the rest 10% from other periods.
Exquisitely caved and beautifully shaped with a vivid and delicate appearance, the Longmen Grottoes are known as a bright pearl in the artistic treasure house of the sculptures of the world. Although often referred to as a perfect art representation of Buddhist culture, the Longmen Grottoes at the same time reflect political, economic, and cultural states in ancient China. It gives us historical data for the researching of ancient religion, arts, architecture, calligraphy, music, dress, and medicine. Therefore, it has been considered to be a large scale stone-carved art museum.
• Fengxian Temple
Stretching along the precipitous cliff of the southern side of West Hill, Fengxian Temple (Ancestor Worshipping Temple), also named Grand Vairocana Buddha Niche, is the largest cave in Longmen.
Measuring 35 meter in width and 39 meter in length, this cave was carved over 1300 years ago (from 672 to 675 AD) during the Tang dynasty. When it was first constructed, the entire grotto was covered with a roof and enclosed from the natural elements. Today the roof is missing and the sculptures stand out in the open air.
Sitting on the "Xumi" position, the chief statue Buddhist Lushena reaches a height of 17.14 meter; the head is 4 meter high and the ear, 1.9 meter. It wears a cheerful look with a shallow smile on its face. The whole statue is lively and vivid.
• Binyang Cave
Binyang Cave is another well-known cave. The construction of this cave spanned 24 years, and is believed to be the longest amongst all the caves. This cave consists of 3 caves, namely middle, southern and northern Bingyang caves. It is the most splendid one of the grottoes from the Northern Wei dynasty.
The middle Binyang cave is the most important one among all the 3. It was built from 500 to 523 AD. With a vaulted roof, the middle cave is 12 meter in length, 10.9 meter in width and 9 meter in height. The main Buddha, Sakyamuni, is sitting in the middle with a disciple and a Bodhisattva on each side. There used to be 2 huge relief sculptures in the cave depicting the grand scenes of the worshipping ceremonies of Emperor Xiaowen and his wife. But, later, these were stolen and now are housed respectively by museums in Texas and New York.
• Wanfo Cave
Built in 690 AD during the Tang dynasty, the Wanfo Cave (Ten Thousand Buddha Cave), aimed to show the benefaction of Emperor Gaozong and Empress Wu Zetian and their children. The cave took its name from the over 15,000 tiny statues of Buddha carved on its southern and northern walls.
Flanked by 4 guards and 2 Bodhisattvas on both sides, the main Buddhist statue is sitting on an octagonal lotus basis, and has a plump face, peaceful eyes and a fearless gesture.
On the back wall of this cave are 54 lotus flowers, each with a Bodhisattva of different countenances on it. In the southern niche outside the cave stands an 85 cm tall statue of Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva. Holding a pure water bottle in her left hand and a horsetail whisk in the right hand, the Bodhisattva looks demure and reserved with a well-shaped figure.
• Qianxi Temple
Qianxi Temple, also called Zhaifutang Hall, is located in the northern end of the West Hill. Constructed during the reign of Emperor Gaozong of the Tang dynasty, this cave measures about 9 meter in height, width and depth. The chief Buddha of this cave, Amitabha Buddha is sitting in the exact center with 2 disciples on either side.
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