Close to Datong City in China there is a UNESCO-protected site containing more than 51,000 Buddha statues in 252 caves of various sizes. The place is called The Yungang Grottoes.

Thanks to 360Cities Maestro photographer Jacky Cheng, we can admire this masterpiece of Buddhist cave art in China.

Yungang Grottoes – V Cave(2)

The complex was created over sixty years (460-525). Tan Yao, a monk, began carving the Five Caves in the year 460 after the first emperor of the Northern Wei dynasty assumed the throne.

Yungang Grottoes – VI Cave(2)

 

Construction of the Yungang Grottoes is divided into three periods:

1.- The Early Period (460-465): the five main caves were constructed to house the giant Buddha statues (13-15 meters tall). Like the thatched sheds in ancient India, the grottoes have a U-shaped plan and arched roofs. Each cave also has a window and a door. On the outer walls, thatched sheds with 1000 Buddhist statues were carved, which is rarely seen in the tradition of the Chinese history of grotto carving.

Yungang Grottoes – Cave on the 20th 

 

2.- The Middle Period (471-494): During these years, the Chongfu Temple was built as well as the twelve large caves, and up to the 70% of the big caves were dug.

Datong Yungang Grottoes – Cave 19 int…

 

3.- The Late Period (494-525): more than 200 caves (medium-small size)  and niches were constructed in the west of the grotto area, in the Dragon King Temple Valley. These caves have varied and complicated irregular shapes and their decoration was carved on the cliff around the door of the caves.

Datong Yungang Grottoes – 11 Cave loc…

Some of these temples were destroyed in 1122 during a war. But since the foundation of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, caves 5, 6 and 7 are conserved, protected and open to the public.

Datong Yungang Grottoes – V Cave inte…

Yungang Grottoes – VI Cave(1)

 

UNESCO added this art and Buddhist complex to the World Heritage List in December  2001. There are four criteria which qualify the Yungang Grottoes as a World Heritage site:

  1. It is a masterpiece of early Chinese Buddhist cave art.
  2.  Its art represents the successful fusion of Buddhist religious symbolic art from south and central Asia with Chinese cultural traditions.
  3.  The power and endurance of Buddhist belief in China are vividly illustrated by the Yungang grottoes.
  4. The Buddhist tradition of the religious cave art achieved its first major impact at Yungang, where it developed its own distinct character and artistic power.

References:

http://tour.yungang.org/en/

http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1039

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yungang_Grottoes

http://whc.unesco.org/uploads/nominations/1039.pdf

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