The Longmen Grottoes, located on both sides of the Yi River to the south of the ancient capital of Luoyang, Henan province, comprise more than 2,300 caves and niches carved into the steep limestone cliffs over a 1km long stretch. These contain almost 110,000 Buddhist stone statues, more than 60 stupas and 2,800 inscriptions carved on steles. Luoyang was the capital during the late Northern Wei Dynasty and early Tang Dynasty, and the most intensive period of carving dates from the end of the 5th century to the mid-8th century. The earliest caves to be carved in the late 5th and early 6th centuries in the West Hill cliffs include Guyangdong and the Three Binyang Caves, all containing large Buddha figures. Yaofangdong Cave contains 140 inscription recording treatments for various diseases and illnesses. Work on the sculpture in this cave continued over a 150 year period, illustrating changes in artistic style. The sculptural styles discovered in the Buddhist caves of the Tang Dynasty in the 7th and 8th centuries, particularly the giant sculptures in the Fengxiansi Cave are the most fully representative examples of the Royal Cave Temples’ art, which has been imitated by artists from various regions. The two sculptural art styles, the earlier “Central China Style” and the later “Great Tang Style” had great influence within the country and throughout the world, and have made important contributions to the development of the sculptural arts in other Asian countries.
The Longmen Grottoes are of great value in world sculpture history and have been listed in the World Cultural Heritage Site by UNESCO. A large-scaled renovation was undertaken in 2003 to keep the grottoes in good condition. See Ancient Grottoes in China.
The Qianxi Temple is the first big cave on the west hill after walking into the Longmen scenic spot, which is famous for the flowing streams around the carvings. This 9 meters wide and high cave, which is 7 meters deep, was dug and carved in at beginning of the Tang Dynasty.
The major Buddha in this cave is Amitabha, and is about 7.38 meters high. His face is round and chubby with a smart expression and his body is in proportion. Beside him are another three Buddha figures. The most outstanding one is Mahasthamaprapta Buddha. It is the most beautiful Buddha figure built in the Tang Dynasty.
The Three Binyangdong Caves
The middle cave, north cave and south cave are the three main caves of the Binyangdong Caves. Among them, the middle cave is the most typical of caves built in the North Wei Dynasty.
The Middle Cave
Under the lotus carved on the top, Shakyamuni Buddha (the founder of Buddhism) is standing in the middle of this cave. He is slim and delicate according to the beauty standard of the North Wei Dynasty.
The front walls on both sides were embossed with a design of Buddhist stories, which has a wealth of history and art value.
Wanfo Cave (Ten Thousand Buddhists Cave) – the Smallest Grottoes
Wanfo Cave is one of the most significant caves among the Longmen Grottoes because it has the smallest Buddha figure, which is only about 2 square meters. There are 15,000 small statues of Buddha chiseled into both sides of the walls in Wanfo Cave under an exquisite colorful lotus painting on the roof.
This cave is famous for the grand lotus carving on the top, which is one of the symbols of Buddhism. It was exquisitely built in the North Wei Dynasty and has rarely been seen in the Longmen Grottoes. The five Buddha figures in this cave are Shakyamuni and his disciples.
Fengxian Temple – the Largest and Most Exquisite Grottoes
Nishyanda Buddha, which was built in the Tang Dynasty under the support of Wuzetian (China’s first female emperor) in the Fengxian Temple, is the largest figure among the Longmen Grottoes. It is about 17 meters high. In addition, Buddha figures in the Fengxian Temple are the most exquisite and best preserved figures among the Longmen Grottoes. Travelers need to climb 99 steps to see these Buddha figures, which mean auspiciousness in Chinese.
Located on the east hill opposite to the grottoes, the Xiangshan Temple was originally built in the North Wei Dynasty and was rebuilt many times afterwards.
In the tablet kiosk in the Xiangshan Temple, there is a stone tablet reciting the poem written by Emperor Qianlong in the Qing Dynasty. In the south-east of the Xiangshan Temple, a two-story building called “Jiang Song Apartment” was first built as a summer residence for Jiangjieshi and Songmeiling.
Many travelers come to the Xiangshan Temple to pray for health and happiness every year. After being renovated five times, it looks more magnificent and sophisticated.
Baijuyi’s Tomb is situated on the Pipa Peak on the east hill. It is the graveyard of the famous Chinese Tang Dynasty poet, Baijuyi, who lived in Luoyang in his elderly years and loved the scenery there.
The grotto was first carved in the North Wei Dynasty, over 1,500 years ago, and was expanded through the succeeding East and West Wei Dynasties, North Qi Dynasty, North Zhou Dynasty, Sui and Tang Dynasties, and was finally completed in the North Song Dynasty.
500 years of renovation and expansion have created this prestigious world cultural site. The most significant chiseling activities happened in the Tang and North Wei Dynasties, which lasted over 150 years.
“Longmen Grottoes” Accessed May 12, 2018. https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1003
“History of Longmen Grottoes” Accessed May 12, 2018. https://www.chinahighlights.com/luoyang/attraction/longmen-grottoes.htm