Datong Tourist Attractions

The industrial town of Datong lies in the north of Shanxi province on a plain which is shielded to the north and south by two sections of the Great Wall of China. There is a rail link between Datong and Beijing.
It seems probable that Datong was founded in the 5th C BC. From AD 398 to 495, when it was known as Pincheng, it was the seat of the Northern Wei dynasty. Many works of art which can now be seen in the Yungang Shiku Caves date from this period. Under the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) Datong became strategically important.
The considerable deposits of coal nearby have given Datong the name of the ''Coal Capital''; agricultural machinery is another important branch of industry here.

Huayan Monastery

The Huayan Monastery, to the west of the town center, is one of the few well-preserved sacred buildings from the Liao period (916-1125). Huayan was a school of Buddhist teaching, of which there were many at that time. In 1122 the monastery was destroyed and a new building soon replaced it. Basically, there are two separate complexes: Lower Monastery (Xia Huayan Si) and Upper Monastery (Shang Huayan Si). This division has been in existence since the 15th C. Both monasteries are famous for their religious works of art.

Sutra Temple

The main hall of the Lower Monastery is the Sutra Temple (Boqijiao Cangdian), dating from 1038, which served as a library of Buddhist writings. There are at present 38 built-in cupboards (made during the Liao dynasty) which house some 18,000 volumes from the Ming and Qing periods (1368-1911). The main treasure of the hall are the 31 life-like clay altar figures which are arranged in three groups. They were made during the same time as the hall and represent Bodhisattwas, Buddha pupils and believers who are assembled around the Buddhas of the three Ages.

Hall of the Great Hero

The Upper Monastery is structured around the Hall of the Great Hero (Daxiong Baodian), built in 1140 to replace a former 11th C building that burned down in 1122. It covers an area of 1560sq.m/16,785sq.ft, making it one of the largest Buddhist temples in China. The wood and clay statues are from the Ming period (1368-1644). There are five Buddha statues, representing the directions (the center three are made of wood, the others of clay). The heads and upper bodies of the 20 heavenly guardian statues are bent forward about 15 degrees. All the temple walls are painted with murals; these cover an area of 887sq.m/9540sq.ft and portray the life and works of Shakyamuni, painted by the Dong An during the era of the Emperor Guangxu (1875-1908). The ceiling of 973 panels was decorated in the Qing era (1644-1911) with geometrical patterns and floral decorations.
Another part of the temple houses the Municipal Museum.

Shanhua Si (Nan Si)

The Shanhua Si or Nan Si lies, as its name suggests, in the south of the town. Construction commenced in the 8th C but in 1122 a large part fell victim to the fire of that year. It was rebuilt between 1128 and 1143. Today the monastery comprises the Sumptuous Hall of the Great Hero (Liao period, 916-1125), the Hall of the Three Holy Ones (12th C) and the Puxian Pavilion, or Puxian Ge (1154).

Shanhua Si Monastery - Sumptuous Hall of the Great Hero

The Sumptuous Hall of the Great Hero (Daixong Baodian) contains five statues of Tathagata (one of the ten titles afforded to Shakyamuni) seated on a throne of lotus leaves; each is surrounded by several followers and Bodhisattvas. On each side of the temple stand 24 statues of gods all with different faces. Apart from two guardian statues from the Jin period (1115-1234) all these figures can be attributed to the Liao era (916-1125). Although the wall-paintings are of the Qing period (1644-1911) they are based on the style of the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368).

Shanhua Si Monastery - Wall of the Nine Dragons

The Wall of the Nine Dragons, in Dongjie Street in the town center, is 45.5m/149ft long, 8m/26ft high and 2.02m/6.5ft) thick. It was built in 1392 to embellish the residence of Zhu Gui, the thirteenth son of the first Ming Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang. In 1644 the palace burned down, and the only part saved from the flames was the wall, built of colored ceramic bricks and decorated with bas- and high-relief. The decorations portray nine dragons, beneficent beings, numbering nine for luck, that are dancing in the clouds, grabbing for dragon pearls.

Shanhua Si Monastery - Hall of the Three Holy Ones

In the Hall of the Three Holy Ones, a typical example of the architecture of the Jin dynasty (1127-1234), visitors can see the statues of the Three Holy Ones, Shakyamuni, Wenshu and Puxian.


Mount Hengshan

72km/45mi southeast of Datong soars the holy northern mountain Hengshan, one of the five mythical mountains of China (the others being Mount Taishan in Shandong province, Mount Hashan in Shaanxi province, Mount Hengshan in Hunan province and Mount Songshan in Henan province). At one time it was regarded as a holy mountain, and they were given sacrifices on the order of the Emperors. The highest peak on Mount Hengshan reaches a height of 2017m/6620ft.

Hanging Monastery

Various monuments are scattered over the slopes of Mount Hengshan. The most famous of these is the Hanging Monastery (Xuankong Si), 5km/3mi from Hunyuan, which was built near the Pass of the Golden Dragon (Jinlong Kou) on a rock-face 30m/100ft above the valley floor. Some of the smaller halls of this 6th century AD monastery are supported by thin stilts which stand on rock precipices. In the buildings the visitor can see 80 bronze, iron, terracotta and stone sculptures dating from different periods.

Wooden Pagoda of Yingxian

Built in 1056, the Wooden Pagoda of Yingxian (Yingxian Muta) stands in Yingxian, about 70km/44mi south of Datong. It is the oldest wooden pagoda in China and a masterpiece of Chinese timber construction. The octagonal building, put together without the use of a single nail, is of impressive height (67m/220ft). On the ground floor the visitor can see a large statue of Shakyamuni and six murals portraying Tathagata, one of the ten forms in which Buddha appeared. On the third floor is a statue of Bodhisattva with four faces, each looking towards a different point of the compass. The four faces symbolize the immeasurable wisdom of Buddha, whose gaze can pass through any object. In the middle of the fifth floor can be seen a sculpture of a seated Shakyamuni surrounded by eight Bodhisattvas. As the likeness of Shakyamuni is an outstanding one the building is also known as the Pagoda of Shakyamuni (Sajia Ta).

Yungang Shiku Caves

The Yungang Shiku Caves, 16km/10mi west of Datong on the southern slopes of the Wuzhou Mountains, stretch for over 1km/1100yd in an east-west direction. Like the caves at Dunhuang and Longmen, these too house a number of Buddhist works of art which betray Indian and Ancient Greek influences.
There are 53 caves in all containing more than 51,000 statues, the largest being 17m/56ft high and the smallest a mere 2cm/.75in, as well as high-reliefs. Most were made between AD 460 and 494, a donation from the Toba emperors (northern Wei dynasty), especially Wencheng, a practicing Buddhist. Ten of thousands of sculptors labored on this mighty task under the supervision of the monk Tao Yao.

Cave No.3

Cave No. 3, the largest of the Yungang Shiku Caves, contains a Buddha and two Bodhisattvas, which are rendered particularly interesting by their impressive stance and elegant clothing. From the way they are presented it is thought that they date from the early Tang period (618-907).

Cave No. 5

Cave No. 5 contains a 17m/56ft high statue of Yungang. The seated Buddha was probably carved in the 5th C but covered in colored clay during the Tang period.

Cave No. 6

In the center of Cave No. 6 stands a 16m/52.52ft high column shaped like a two-story pagoda. It is decorated with numerous bas-reliefs describing the life of Shakyamuni from his birth until he entered Nirvana. Further episodes from his life are inscribed on the east, south and west walls of the cave.

Cave No. 7

Cave No. 7 contains two stone lions in front of a Figure of the Buddha, and six Bodhisattva statues.

Cave No. 8

The influence of various styles can be seen in Cave No. 8. The way the Indian deities Vishnu and Shiva are portrayed shows an Indian influence, while the guardian with the trident is clearly Hellenistic in style.

Cave No. 11

An inscription on the east wall of Cave No. 11 indicates that it was built in the year 483. It boasts 95 large stone carvings and numerous Bodhisattva figures in small niches.

Cave No. 12

Cave No. 12 is noted for its carvings of 5th C musical instruments.

Cave No. 13

The 13m/43ft tall statue of Maitreya in Cave No. 13 strikes an unusual stance; its hand is supported by a four-armed figure standing on one leg.

Cave No. 14 and 15

Although Caves 14 and 15 are severely weathered they are of interest because of the thousands of small Bodhisattva figures in niches in the walls.

Cave No. 16

Cave No. 16 which, together with Nos. 17 to 20, is one of the oldest in Yungang, houses a Buddha and five Bodhisattva sculptures. These are more than 13m/43ft tall and portray five emperors of the Northern Wei dynasty.

Cave No. 17

Cave No. 17 contains a revered statue of Maitreya sitting cross-legged.

Cave No. 18

Cave No. 18 houses an impressive statue of Shakyamuni on the robe of which are carved countless small Bodhisattva figures.

Cave No. 19

In Cave No. 19 can be seen another enthroned figure of Shakyamuni which is 167m/55ft high.

Cave No. 20

Cave No. 20 also contains a seated figure of Shakyamuni, this one being 13.7m/45ft tall. This sculpture, which has become the symbol of the Yungang Caves, is a magnificent masterpiece.

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