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The Longmen Grottoes (a.k.a. Longmen Caves) are located about 12 km south of the city of Luoyang (Henan province). About 2,300 caves and niches have been carved into the limestone cliffs along a 1 km stretch on both sides of the Yi River there. The caves and niches contain Buddhist cave art of outstanding artistic quality (including about 110,000 Buddhist stone statues) from the time of the Six dynasties and the Tang dynasty. It is therefore well-deserved that the Longmen Grottoes are a UNESCO World Heritage site. Among the currently 53 historic sights in China that are on that list, there are only two other Buddhist cave complexes. These are the Mogao Caves near Dunhuang and the Yungang Caves near Datong. All three Buddhist cave complexes should ideally be on the itinerary of travellers that are interested in Chinese history.
The carving of the Longmen Grottoes began in 493 AD during the time of the Northern Wei dynasty (one of the short-lived dynasties during the period of the Six dynasties). About 30% of the caves date from this period. Few new caves were created during the Sui dynasty and the early part of the Tang dynasty (524 AD - 626 AD). Then buddhism began to flourish in Tang China and most caves in the complex were created during this period (626 AD - mid-8th century). The creation of new grottoes then began to decline and eventually came to an end in 1127 AD during the period of the Northern Song dynasty. Altogether, about 60% of all the caves of the Longmen Grottoes were created during the time of the Tang dynasty.
The most important grottoes of the complex are all located along the western bank of the Yi River. These include the Fengxian Temple, Wanfo Cave (Ten-Thousand-Buddha Cave), Guyang Cave (Old Sun Cave), Binyang Cave and Lotus Cave (Lianhua Cave). Along the eastern bank of the river exist a few smaller grottoes as well as the Xiangshan Temple and the Bai Garden. There are two bridges to cross from the western to the eastern side of the cave complex and vice versa. Xiangshan Temple is the most important (and one of the oldest) of the 10 Buddhist temples at the site of the Longmen Caves. Some of its structures still date from the time of its reconstruction during the Qing dynasty. The Bai Garden is a landscape garden that was built in 1985 around the tomb of the Tang dynasty poet Bai Juyi.
Of all the grottoes at Longmen, the Fengxian Temple is by far the largest. Its nine carved figures can be clearly seen even from the other side of the river. Among them, the 57 feet tall (17.14 m) Vairocana Buddha at the center is the tallest of all the figures at the Longmen Grottoes. The Wanfo Cave is famous for the 15,000 small Buddha statues that are chiseled into its northern and southern walls. It also contains lifelike reliefs of singers and dancers. Both the Fengxian Temple and the Wanfo Cave were built during the Tang dynasty.
The Guyang Cave, Binyang Cave and Lotus Cave were all built during the period of the Northern Wei. The Guyang Cave is in fact the oldest cave at the Longmen Caves. It contains hundreds of statues and many famous calligraphic inscriptions. The very large Buddhist sculptures that are found in the North, Middle and South Binyang Cave are all characteristic of the Northern Wei style. The Lotus Cave got its name from the amazing high relief carving on its ceiling. It depicts a highly detailed lotus flower of huge size that is surrounded by six flying musicians. There are many more caves to be visited in addition to the ones mentioned on this page. The Longmen Grottoes are a truly great place to visit to not only learn about the development of Buddhism in China but also about various cultural aspects such as the music, calligraphy, clothing, medicine etc. of these historic times.