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Visiting the Longmen Grottoes

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Visiting the Longmen Grottoes

Longmen Grottoes

© 2007 Sara Naumann, licensed to About.com.

Overview:


Longmen Shiku, or Dragon Gate Grottoes, commonly called the Longmen Grottoes, are a series of caves carved out of the mountainside along the Yi River that house tributes to Buddhism. The area was named a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site in 2000.

There are more than 2,100 grottoes housing more than 100,000 statues and 3,600 inscriptions and stelaes. The site represents a zenith in Chinese stone carving art and comprises the largest collection of Chinese Buddhist art of the Northern Wei and Tang Dynasties (316-907). Visitors today can discern the different carving and aesthetic styles of the different dynasties.

Location:


The grottoes are located just 10 miles (16km) south of Luoyang, Henan province.

Ancient History:


The carvings at Longmen were started in the Northern Wei Dynasty when emperor Xiao Wen moved the capital from Pincheng (now Datong, Shanxi province) to Luoyang. Carving continued for over 400 years through the East and West Wei, Northern Qi, Sui, Tang and Northern Song Dynasties.

The caves and statues inside the grottoes were carved by artisans at the behest of the imperial court and other wealthy patrons.

Recent History:


Sadly, most of the smaller Buddhist statuary, many inscriptions and murals were stolen by Western visitors in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It is estimated that some 800 of the finest pieces were carried off in the 1930s alone. There are still some very impressive sculptures remaining but today¡¯s visitor will shudder at the hundreds of beheaded Buddha sculptures one passes during a visit.

Features:

  • You enter (and buy tickets) at the Dragon Gate, and then walk along the Yi River by the carved grottoes. There are plenty of vendors along the way should you get thirsty.
  • The carvings flank both sides of the mountains along the Yi River. Walkways and stairs guide you to reachable grottoes so you can peer inside at the carvings.
  • There are several famous "not to be missed" grottoes including the Three Binyang Caves, Ten Thousand Buddha Cave, Lotus Flower Cave and the Fengxian Temple (Ancestor Worshipping Temple) where the largest sculptures at Longmen sit.
  • 2,100 grottoes housing over 100,000 Buddhist sculptures.

Getting there:

  • There are public buses out of Luoyang as well as minibuses from the train and bus stations that get you to Longmen Grottoes.
  • An easier, less hassle way to get there is hiring a taxi for the day. Have your hotel help you negotiate with the driver.
  • A trip to the Longmen Grottoes can also be combined as a day trip from Zhengzhou that includes Shaolin Temple, home of Zen Buddhism and China¡¯s kung fu martial arts.

Essentials:


Opening hours: Daily all year: 7am-7pm

Recommended time for visit: three hours

Tips:

  • It should go without saying, but make sure you have comfortable walking shoes on for this adventure - the grottoes are a long walk along the river and you'll have quite a few steep stairways to climb up and down.
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