Why is Yungang Grottoes special
As ancient Buddhist temple grottoes, the Yungang Grottoes, near the city of Datong, are excellent examples of rock-out architecture and one of the three most famous ancient sculptural sites of China, of which the other two are Longmen and Mogao Grottoes.
Located about 16km south-west of Datong, in the valley of the Shi Li River at the base of the Wuzhou Shan Mountain, the Yungang Grottoes are an outstanding example of the Chinese stone carvings from the 5th and 6th centuries, and were acclaimed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001.
Yungang Grottoes Highlights
Yungang Grottoes is considered by UNESCO as a “masterpiece of early Chinese Buddhist cave art", which represents the successful fusion of Buddhist religious symbolic art from south and central Asia with Chinese cultural traditions.
As a relic of the Northern Wei Dynasty, Yungang Grottoes took in Indian Gandhara Buddhist art and developed traditional Chinese melded with social features of the time. The tourism of Yungang Grottoes is divided into three parts: eastern, central and western portions.
East Portion of Grottoes
These are made up of grottoes numbered #1 through #4 (“#” is an unit dividing different section of the grottoes site) and are generally called the “tower” caves due to the carved tower or pagoda in the middle of each, of which #1 and #2 are best preserved. In the center of each is a square tower and covering it as well as all four walls are carved stories of the Buddha in various structures.
Central Portion of Grottoes
Grottoes of Numbered #5 to #20 are situated in the central region of the precipice of Wu Zhou Mountain, which were the earliest part of the grottoes to be carved and they are of the highest value.
Particularly notable for their Buddhist carvings, the five grottoes numbered #16 to #20 were supervised by the high priest under the Northern Wei Emperor Wencheng and are considered to be the most resplendent of all.
Grottoes #9 to #13, known as the 'painted' caves since later generations painted the carvings in them, provide important material for study of history of architecture, arts, calligraphy and music.
The central seated Buddha in #5, with a height of seventeen meters, is the tallest of any statue at the Yungang Grottoes. In the #6 grotto stands a 16-meter-high stupa, carved with Buddha statues on all sides.
Western Portion of Grottoes
Currently western portion are Number #21 to #53. Compared with these of eastern and central part, the grottoes here enjoy more advanced techniques and various styles.