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The Yungang Grottoes are the best preserved Buddhist cave art in China

Marija Georgievska

The ancient Chinese Buddhist temple grottoes, the Yungang Grottoes are located near the city of Datong in the province of Shanxi.

Besides Longmen and Mogao, the Yungang Grottoes are one of the most famous ancient Buddhist sculptural sites in China.

The site is located about 16 km west of the city of Datong. Photo Credit

The site is located about 16 km west of the city of Datong. Photo Credit

They are divided into three parts: the eastern (caves 1-4), the middle, with Buddha statues in the center (caves 5-13), and the western (caves 14-53) parts.

Cave 12. Phase II, after 650 AD. Photo Credit

Cave 12. Phase II, after 650 AD. Photo Credit

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

The smallest statue is only two centimeters and the biggest is 17 meters tall.

The most magnificent of the sculptures is the 14m-tall seated Buddha of Cave 20.

One of the larger statues at Yungang. Photo Credit

One of the larger statues at Yungang. Photo Credit

They are excellent examples of rock-cut architecture and According to UNESCO, they are a masterpiece of early Chinese Buddhist cave art.

Cave 9. Photo Credit

Cave 9. Photo Credit

The work on the first period of caving by Northern Wei  lasted until the year 465 AD, and the caves are now known as caves 16-20.

Caves worth special attention are No.16, 17, 18, 19, and 20. Photo Credit

Caves worth special attention are No.16, 17, 18, 19, and 20. Photo Credit

The second period of construction lasted until 494 Ad, the twin caves 5/6, 7/8, and 9/10, as well as the caves 11 and 12 were constructed under the supervision of the imperial court.

In the third construction period, the rest of the caves emerged under private patronage.

The wooden buildings extant in front of caves 5 and 6 were constructed in 1621, during the early Qing Dynasty. Photo Credit

The wooden buildings extant in front of caves 5 and 6 were constructed in 1621, during the early Qing Dynasty. Photo Credit

From 1049 to 1060, during the Liao Dynasty, the caves saw some renewing of statues and the buildup of the 10 temples of Yungang that were meant to protect the main caves.

During the early Qing Dynasty in 1621, wooden buildings were constructed in front of caves 5 and 6.

Since the 1950s, forestation has been implemented in an effort to reduce the weathering due to sandstorms.

In 2001, the Yungang Grottoes were made a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Photo Credit

In 2001, the Yungang Grottoes were made a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Photo Credit

The grottoes are a very powerful example of the Buddhist belief in China.

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In 2001, The Yungang Grottoes were made a UNESCO World Heritage Site and they are classified as a AAAAA scenic area by the China National Tourism Administration.