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Longmen Grottoes Timeline

Longmen Grottoes Timeline


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Longmen Grottoes: New Perspectives

A UNESCO World Heritage Site filled with magnificent carved Buddhist caves, the Longmen Grottoes are renown throughout the world for their enduring legacy to Chinese art. Join experts from the Longmen Grottoes Research Academy and leading scholars for a day of cutting-edge research, archaeological findings, preservation work, and a special viewing of the Longmen Digital Retrieval Project.

Longmen Grottoes Research Academy Recent Projects
CGIS S354 9:00-12:30PM
Recent Global Research on the Grottoes
CGIS S354 1:30-4:00PM
Harvard and Longmen
"CGIS S450 4:00-5:30PM

Graciously sponsored by the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Fund for Asian Art, the Harvard History of Art and Architecture Department, Harvard Visual China, Harvard-Yenching Institute, and the Longmen Grottoes Research Academy


Longmen Grottoes Timeline - History

After dynasties of carving and centuries of worship and protection, the Longmen Grottoes in central China's Henan Province has gained its unique reputation as a Buddhist site of the only empress in Chinese history.

In the largest cave of Longmen Grottoes, the Fengxian Temple, which is 35 meters wide and 39 meters high, there is a statue called the Grand Vairocana Buddha. Some historical records reveal that it was modeled after the face of Empress Wu Zetian, the only empress in Chinese history, who gained popular support by advocacy of Buddhism and reigned during the Tang Dynasty 1,309 years ago. People also call it Empress Wu Zetian's Statue.

About 17.14 meters tall with the head 4 meters long and the ear 1.9 meters wide each, the statue of Empress Wu is believed the most extraordinary masterpiece of the Longmen Grottoes. According to historical records, Empress Wu supported the construction of the statue with her own money and headed officials to the Buddhist ceremony when it was completed.

Empress Wu Zetian (625-705) is the only reigning female in Chinese history. She was first one of the harem of Emperor Tang Taizong and later the favorite of his son, Gaozong. After Gaozong suffered a stroke, she began to govern China from behind the scene via him and declared power in 690, when she established the Zhou Dynasty (690-705). At the age of 72 Empress Wu allowed the Tang Dynasty to be resumed and died soon after.

Although it was short-lived, some historians consider the establishment of the Zhou Dynasty the result of better gender equality during the succeeding Tang Dynasty.

Today, Empress Wu Zetian's Statute in Longmen Grottoes is reputed as the "Eastern Mona Lisa", or the "Eastern Venus" for its gentler facial expression.

Located 12 kilometers south of ancient city of Luoyang, the Longmen Grottoes stretch over 1,000 meters on the hillsides along the Yi River. They were first sculptured and chiseled around 493 AD during the Northern Wei Dynasty (386-534), and the entire construction lasted more than four hundred years up to the Song Dynasty (960-1279).

Today there are still about 2,100 caves and niches, 100,000 Buddhist images ranging in size from 0.02 to 17 meters, more than 2,800 inscribed tablets, and 43 Buddhist pagodas remaining at the site.

The Longmen Grottoes were listed by UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage Site in 2000. They are reputed as among the greatest ancient stone sculpture sites in China along with the Mogao Caves in Dunhuang in northwestern Gansu Province and the Yungang Grottoes in northern Shanxi Province.

"The grottoes and niches of Longmen contain the largest and most impressive collection of Chinese art of the late Northern Wei and Tang dynasties (316-907). These works, entirely devoted to the Buddhist religion, represent the high point of Chinese stone carving," described the UNESCO website.

Besides worshipping Buddhism and Empress Wu, the Longmen Grottoes also reflect political, economic, and cultural lives in ancient China. The sculptures describe the people in the fields of arts, architecture, calligraphy, music, dressing and medicine.

Although much of the site has been well preserved, during its long history, some parts were damaged by natural erosion and vandalism. Crevices in the rock bases caused some caves to collapse. Saline sediments resulting from acid rain, train and automobile vibrations and natural disasters have also affected the site.

To well protect the historical site, the central and local governments have removed the restaurants and shopping stalls from inner scenic area and resettled the nearby Longmen Village to reveal the natural surroundings of the grottoes. Vehicles have been forbidden to enter the area to avoid tremors as well as dirt. The world heritage site is welcoming visitors with a more peaceful and beautiful image.


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The information contained here are subject to change. Chinese History Digest is not responsible or liable if any changes should occur. You can also check the official website of the Yungang Grottoes for the latest information.

Opening Hours

8:30 a.m. - 5:30 p.m.
(April - October)
8:30 a.m. - 5 p.m.
(November - March)
Exhibition Hall: 9:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.

Admission Fees

120 Yuan
(April - October)
100 Yuan
(November - March)
Free for children under 1.2 m

The Yungang Grottoes (a.k.a. Yungang Caves) are one of three major Buddhist caves complexes in China. The other two that are just as significant are Luoyang's Longmen Grottoes and Dunhuang's Mogao Caves. The Yungang Grottoes are located about 16 km west of the city of Datong (Shanxi province). At this amazing cave complex that was built in the 5th and 6th century during the period of the Six dynasties, visitors will find 254 caves carved into the limestone cliffs at the northern side of Wuzhou Mountain. Out of this total number of caves, 45 are classified as major grottoes and the remaining 209 as secondary caves. In addition to the caves, there are also about 1,100 niches at the site. Both caves and niches together contain about 51,000 statues. Whereas the smallest of these statues is only 2 cm tall, the biggest one measures 17 meters.

The caves and grottoes at this UNESCO world heritage site that stretches for about 1 km from east to west are dispersed in three distinct groups: an eastern, middle and western group. The eastern group of caves is mainly built in the style of pagodas and the caves in the western group are either small or mid-sized with niches. The caves in the middle of the complex contain Buddha statues at their center and are made up of front and back chambers. The walls and ceilings of the middle caves are furthermore carved with sculptures.

The five caves 16 - 20 in the eastern part of the complex are the oldest. They were carved under the leadership of a monk named Tan Yao between 453 AD and 465 AD at a time when Buddhism had begun to spread along the Silk Route into China. The Northern Wei dynasty was one of the first to accept Buddhism as their state religion and Datong (then named Pingcheng) was their capital. All five of these early grottoes are very similar in their layout and design and each contains a Buddha statue with the features of one of the five emperors Taizu, Taizong, Shizu, Gaozong and Gaozu.

The group of middle caves includes the caves 1, 2, 12, 13, the unfinished cave 3 and the twin caves 5/6, 7/8 and 9/10. All these caves were built during a second construction phase from 471 AD onwards until the imperial court of the Northern Wei dynasty moved to their new capital of Luoyang in 494 AD. Most of the middle caves are made up of a front and back room. The walls and ceilings of the middle caves are adorned with sculptures and a Buddhist statue stands in their center. The largest of all the caves at the Yungang Grottoes - cave No. 6 - is 20 meters tall and features a central pillar that is decorated with Buddhist statues and designs. The east, south and west wall of the cave also features Buddhist designs such as the story of Sakyamuni that is told on 33 embossed panels.

Since the imperial court no longer financed the construction of additional caves at the site of the Yungang Grottoes after its move to Luoyang, the rest of the caves had to be financed by private donors. The late caves and niches that were constructed in the western part of the complex between 494 AD and 525 AD are therefore either small or of medium size. The caves 4, 11, 14 and 15 are the most noteworthy among this final group of caves.

view of the entrance to the Yungang Grottoes near Datong

How to get to the Yungang Grottoes near Datong?

Address: Yungang Grottoes (about 16 km west of Datong)
Nanjiao district, Datong, Shanxi province, China
Tel.Nr.: +86 352 320 6818
By Air: Datong Yungang Airport (DAT)
By Train: Datong Railway Station
Bus Stop: Take bus line 4 from the Datong Railway Station to the Xin Kai Li Stop. From there, take bus line 3 directly to the Yungang Caves.

Nearest Hotels to the Yungang Grottoes near Datong:

The hotels underneath are listed by their increasing distance from the Yungang Grottoes near Datong. Click on the name of the hotel to find out more information or to make a reservation!


Longmen Grottoes Timeline - History

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The Baoji-Lanzhou high-speed railway started operation on July 9, 2017. /VCG Photo

Kaifeng North Railway Station

Qingming Riverside Landscape Garden in Kaifeng, central China's Henan Province. /VCG Photo

Qingming Riverside Landscape Garden in Kaifeng, central China's Henan Province. /VCG Photo

Qingming Riverside Landscape Garden in Kaifeng, central China's Henan Province. /VCG Photo

Qingming Riverside Landscape Garden in Kaifeng, central China's Henan Province. /VCG Photo

A section of "Qingming Shanghe Tu" or "Along the River During the Qingming Festival" drawn by Zhang Zeduan in the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127). /VCG Photo

Luoyang Longmen Railway Station

Longmen Grottoes in Luoyang, central China's Henan Province. /VCG Photo

Longmen Grottoes in Luoyang, central China's Henan Province. /VCG Photo

Longmen Grottoes in Luoyang, central China's Henan Province. /VCG Photo

Xi'an North Railway Station

Giant Wild Goose Pagoda in Xi'an, northwest China's Shaanxi Province. /VCG Photo

Giant Wild Goose Pagoda in Xi'an, northwest China's Shaanxi Province. /VCG Photo


Yungang Grottoes Facts

The Yungang Grottoes also known as Yungang Caves, it was called Wuzhoushan Grottoes in ancient time. They are ancient Chinese Buddhist temple grottoes near the city of Datong in the province of Shanxi. They are excellent examples of rock-cut architecture and one of the four most famous ancient Buddhist sculptural sites of China. The others are Longmen Grottoes, Mogao Grottoes and Maijishan Grottoes. The Yungang Grottoes was published as world cultural heritage by UNESCO in 2001.

The site of Yungang Grottoes is located about 16 km south-west of the city of Datong, in the valley of the Shi Li River at the base of the Wuzhou Shan Mountains.

Time of Building

The grottoes were carved between the 5th and 6th centuries.

All together the site is composed of 252 grottoes with more than 51,000 Buddha statues and statuettes.

History of the Yungang Grottoes

After the decline of the Jin Dynasty, the northern parts of China came under the control of the Northern Wei. They made the city of Pingcheng, now known as Datong, their capital. Due to its promotion, Pingcheng saw an increase in construction work. The Northern Wei early adopted Buddhism as their state religion. Buddhism arrived in this location via travel on the ancient North Silk Road, the northernmost route of about 2600 kilometers in length, which connected the ancient Chinese capital of Xi'an to the west over the Wushao Ling Pass to Wuwei and emerging in Kashgar before linking to ancient Parthia.

The work on this first period of carving lasted until the year 465 AD, and the caves are now known as caves 16–20. Beginning around the year 471 AD, in a second construction phase that lasted until 494 AD, the twin caves 5/6, 7/8, and 9/10 as well as the caves 11, 12, and probably 13 were constructed under the supervision and support of the imperial court. The imperial patronage ended 494 AD with the move of the Wei court to the new capital of Luoyang. All other caves emerged under private patronage in a third construction period, lasting until 525, when the construction came to a final halt due to uprisings in the area.

Since the end of the works, the sandstone of the grottoes has been exposed to heavy weathering. The ensuing centuries therefore saw several attempts to preserve the caves and to repair sustained damage. During the Liao Dynasty the caves saw some renewing of statues and the buildup of the "10 temples of Yungang" from 1049 to 1060, which were meant to protect the main caves. However, they were destroyed again just some 60 years later in a fire. The wooden buildings extant in front of caves 5 and 6 were constructed in 1621, during the early Qing Dynasty. Since the 1950s, cracks in the sandstone have been sealed by grouting, and forestation has been implemented in an effort to reduce the weathering due to sandstorms.

1. Take bus No. 4 at Datong Railway Station and get off at Xin Kai Li. Then transfer to bus No. 3-1 to Yungang Grottoes.

2. There are other bus routes but it is advisable to take taxi or hire a van from downtown Datong to the Grottoes directly. The cost should be about CNY50.

Entrance Fee

08:30 - 17:20 (April 15 - October 27)

08:30 - 17:00 (October 28 - April 14)

09:30 - 16:30 (the exhibition hall)

Tips for Visiting the Yungang Grottoes

1. Please respect and protect the world cultural heritage and historic sites. Don’t sign your name on caves and buildings in the scenic area. No flash and tri-pot are allowed when taking pictures in the grottoes. Please pay attention to the warning signs and listen to advices from the working staff.

2. No dangerous items and pets are allowed to carry when visiting the Yungang Grottoes. Please behave yourself during the sightseeing since a harmonious environment needs to be maintained by all of us. Please don't litter, smoke and spit.

3. Please queue up in order and don't panic and follow the diverting efforts from the working staff in case of the crowded traffic so as to protect the World Heritage Property.

4. Please pay attention to reminds from the broadcasting station and working staff and evacuate the sight (finish the visit) as soon as possible when the sight is to be closed.


Longmen Grottoes

While the cliff sides facing China’s Yi River known as the Longmen Grottoes look as though they may be home to an oversized ant colony, in truth each and every pit in the rock is a Buddhist man-made shrine.

Originating mostly from the Tang Dynasty dating back nearly to 500 CE, the creation of the grottoes was started thanks to an emperor’s expansion of his empire. Wanting to create a new monumental work for the ages a large temple was carved directly out of the limestone cliff face featuring a group of large Buddha figures. Slowly, the temple began expanding with artisans building not further into the rock face, but rather creating small new niches adjacent to the central temple.

Over the next 500 years, over a thousand new spaces were dug out of the rock, each acting as its own little temple. Nearly 100,000 statues were created in the ever-expanding series of little caves. Generals, wealthy nobles, and other powerful figures from the time would commission new niches regularly.

Unfortunately, many of the grottoes were looted and vandalized in the ensuing centuries, however, thousands of niches still exist on either side of the river. The central grotto still features a number of tall Buddha statues and is now a fenced-off attraction and a protected UNESCO site.

On the other side of the river sitting opposite the grottoes is Xiangshan Temple the final resting place of the Chinese poet Bai Juyi.

Know Before You Go

Located about 12 kilometers south of present-day Luoyang. There's a bus connection between the city and the grottoes. Buses 53, 60, 71 , 81, and 99. The journey takes one hour from central Luoyang and costs ¥1.50.

The entrance fee is ¥90 and includes the grottoes, Chinese garden, and Xiangshan Temple.


Dazu Rock Carvings were listed as a World Heritage Site in 1999. They provide outstanding evidence of the harmonious synthesis of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism. Dazu Rock Carvings is 160 kilometers to the west of Chongqing. Over 60,000 carved stone figures relating mainly to Buddhism are spread around 76 places. The content and craftsmanship are best at Beishan Hill and Baoding Hill. The art of Dazu, which emerged in the late Tang Dynasty (618- 907) and flourished in the Song Dynasty (960-1127), represents an important chapter in China cultural and religious history.

The Dazu rock carvings has made a significant contribution to artistic expression in China, taking into account a new realism and exaggeration in depicting the contrasts between good and evil, beauty and ugliness.



Get in [ edit ]

Longmen Caves are located about 13 km (7 mi) southeast from the city of Luoyang.

Mar-Oct 07:30-19:50, Nov-Feb 07:30-18:50

Bus route 81 (¥1.50) from east side of Luoyang train station. Journey lasts 50 min.

Last bus back to Luoyang is at 20:50.

Alternatively, one can take a taxi.

By train [ edit ]

High speed trains arrive at Luoyang Longmen Station. It is a 1 1/2 to 2-hour journey from Xi'an (¥175 for G-class train), and can easily be achieved as a day trip. The station is between Beijing and Xian so could probably achieve Beijing to Xian with a stop at Longmen in a day.

6 kilometres from the park, 2 buses service this route as part of a loop (in opposite directions). Take the 71 from the station to the park, and the 67 to return (¥1). If you get on the bus in the wrong direction, you will still make it, just a lot later. The buses are not very frequent (had 45 minute wait each time). Entrance tickets may be bought at the station, and during peak times this may allow you to take a free shuttle to the park. There are also plenty of taxis available at the station.


ABCs of Longmen: The making of Maitreya Buddha statue during Wu Zetian's regime

On Sept 9, AD 690 the south gate tower of the royal palace in Luoyang had witnessed an unprecedented historic event, as Wu Zetian announced the change of dynasty from Tang to Zhou and became China's only female monarch in history. She had changed the designation of the imperial reign into Tianshou (means granted by heaven) and ruled under the regnal name, Empress Shengshen (literally means Holy Spirit).

The Maitreya Buddha statue in Middle Leigutai Cave (Tang Dynasty)
The statue building in Longmen Grottoes, the sanctuary of Buddhist art located in south of Luoyang had adopted a different style after Wu became the co-ruler of the court together with the emperor and was entitled "Tianhou". Since then, the statues of Maitreya, the candidate bodhisattva to be a Buddha in the future, were carved into Buddha in the central position to receive donation and worship from civilians. This change had become a trend that influenced other caves nationwide.

Many caves and niches in Longmen have Maitreya statues, like Huijian Cave (carved in 673 AD), South Shuangyao Cave, south wall of Wanfo Cave, north wall of cave of Longhua Temple, Jinan Cave, front wall of Middle Leigutai Cave, Three Buddha Cave and especially the Moya Three Buddha Niche that houses statues symbolizing the Wu regime. These Maitreya statues are all in form of Buddha sitting cross-legged as the main statue, and this kind of change of Maitreya from Bodhisattva to Buddha is a portrayal of Wu's ascension to the throne.

The main statue of Maitreya Buddha in the Moya Three Buddha Niche (Tang Dynasty)

Moya Three Buddha Niche is the "merit cave" (a cave built to generate merit, which were dedicated to a named beneficiary) built for Wu following the suggestion of Huayi and Faming. However, the niche was never completed because Huaiyi was sentenced to death for rebellion activities and later, Zhong Zong, son of Wu regained the throne and put an end to her regime. It left the niche a cultural heritage for today's people to learn how a cave was made at that point of time.


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