Introduction of Yungang Grottoes
The Yungang Grottoes are located on the northern bank of the Wuzhou (Zhou) River, at the southern foot of the Wuzhou Mountain, approximately 16 kilometers west of Datong City in Shanxi Province, China. The grottoes were carved into the mountainside and are grand and magnificent in scale. They stretch about 1 kilometer from east to west and are divided into three sections: East, Central, and West, following the natural contours of the mountain. There are currently 45 main caves and 209 subsidiary caves, with a carved area of over 18,000 square meters. The tallest statue reaches 17 meters in height, while the smallest is 2 centimeters. There are approximately 1,100 Buddha niches and over 59,000 statues of various sizes.
The Yungang Grottoes have a history of 1,500 years and represent the first time that a nation and a dynasty created a royal-style Buddhist art treasury after Buddhism was introduced to China. They are a historical monument that embodies the cultural fusion between East and West in the 5th century AD. In March 1961, the Yungang Grottoes were announced as one of the first national key cultural heritage sites by the State Council of China. In December 2001, they were included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. In May 2007, they became one of the first batch of 5A-level tourist attractions in China.
Features of Yungang Grottoes
The Yungang Grottoes are famous among China's three major grottoes for their magnificent sculptures depicting diverse religious figures. The caves showcase wooden-like architectural structures, prominent Buddhist reliefs, intricate decorative patterns, and lively dance sculptures, creating a captivating display of art. The carving art of the grottoes inherits and evolves the traditions of Qin and Han dynasty sculpture, blending the essence of Buddhist art to create a unique artistic style. The caves can be classified into early, middle, and late periods based on their form, content, and stylistic development.
The early period of the Yungang Grottoes, known as the Tan Yao Five Caves (Caves 16-20), were the first caves to be carved at Yungang under the supervision of monk Tan Yao. They primarily feature the Three Buddhas of the Three Worlds, with the five main Buddha statues representing the five emperors of the Northern Wei Dynasty. Cave 20 showcases an open-air giant Buddha with distinctive exotic features, such as a prominent nose and deep-set eyes. Cave 17 stands out as the only intersecting bodhisattva statue from the early period.
The middle period caves, including Caves 1, 2, 3, and 5-13, represent the most prosperous era of Yungang. Among them, Caves 5 and 6 are twin cave masterpieces, adorned with four-story pavilions in front. Cave 5 boasts a magnificent 17-meter-tall main Buddha, earning it the title of the crown jewel of the Yungang Grottoes. Cave 6, known as the "First Cave of Yungang," showcases exquisite craftsmanship, leaving no uncarved stone and reaching the pinnacle of artistry during that time. Cave 12, also known as the "Music Cave," features numerous musicians playing various instruments, accompanied by lively flying celestial figures. Don't miss the "Six Beauties" in this cave.
The late period caves, mainly Caves 21-45, consist of smaller caves carved by the local community on the western cliffs. These caves exhibit more intricate carvings and statues that exude elegance and ethereal beauty, portraying human-like figures with slender necks and sloping shoulders.
The most worth-seeing grottoes are:
Cave 3: Lingyan Temple Cave, the largest cave in Yungang.
Cave 5: Great Buddha Cave, featuring the largest Buddha statue in Yungang.
Cave 6: Shakyamuni Buddha Cave, with over 30 carved panels depicting the life story of Shakyamuni Buddha.
Cave 7: First Buddha from the West Cave, along with Cave 8, it is the earliest twin cave in Yungang.
Cave 12: Cave of Bodhisattva Detaching from Defilements, commonly known as the "Music Cave," with intricately carved figures holding various musical instruments.
Cave 20: White Buddha Cave, the most popular spot for photography, offering two best shooting angles: a frontal shot and a small platform on the left side of the steps.
Yungang Grottoes Travel Tips
1. The Yungang Grottoes visit is divided into three main areas: Lingyan Temple, Core Grotto Area, and Museum. Lingyan Temple offers incense burning and boating. The Core Grotto Area showcases carved statues and murals. The Museum houses cultural relics. At the exit, there is a commercial street, an art gallery, and folk museums for exploration.
2. Guided tours are always recommended to see the Yungang Grottoes. For independent travelers, learn to use Wechat beforehand. The Yungang Grottoes WeChat menu provides free audio guides. On-site official guides are subjects to availability.
3. Public bus available from Pingcheng district, Datong city, taking around 1 hour. The latest return bus to the city is around 7pm. You can also enjoy the convenience of private transfer to Yungang Grottoes and other sites (Datong Transfer Services, Car Rental & Coach Hiring).
Guided tours including Yungang Grottoes
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