Why Yungang Caves are one of China’s greatest ancient art

China is a huge country with an underestimated history. It was a great empire in Roman times and traces its history through different dynasties much further than that. There are monumental statues and inspiring Buddhist monasteries throughout the country.

While Christianity spread in Europe, Buddhism spread in China. Ancient Chinese Buddhist temple caves are a mesmerizing view of a very different time and golden age of Buddhism in China. The Yungang Grottoes were carved in the 5th and 6th centuries and represent thousands of Buddhist statues in thousands of caves. Another similar ancient rock-hewn Buddhist temple complex in China is the incredible Longman Caves.


Why Yungang Caves are exceptional

The Yungang Caves … are an outstanding achievement of Buddhist cave art in China in the 5th and 6th centuries … they are a classic masterpiece of the first peak of Chinese Buddhist art.

UNESCO

Yungang Grottoes are one of the best examples of ancient Chinese Buddhist rock architecture. They are included in the UNESCO World Heritage List and are located in the northern Chinese province of Shanxi.

  • Location: Near Datong in Shanxi Province
  • Date: In the 5th and 6th centuries
  • dynasty: North Way

The Yungang Grottoes are one of the most famous ancient Buddhist sculptures in China (the others are Longmen and Mogao). They are among the earliest rock-cut Buddhist cave complexes in China

The construction of the caves in Yungang began with a set of five cave temples at the western end of the rock. It began during the Northern Wei dynasty around 460 AD. (Approximately at the time when the Western Roman Empire was in its final stages of disintegration). The Northern Way established Buddhism as the state religion, and the royal family was a staunch follower of Buddhism.


Related: The story behind the amazing Chinese terracotta army and why you should visit them

The large scale of the Yungang Caves

The scale of the Yungang Caves is mind-boggling. The complex consists of 53 large caves and 51,000 niches with statues of Buddha. Different sources report the caves differently, UNESCO lists 252 caves and niches. There are another 1100 small caves. The rock is sandstone and is about 2,600 feet long and about 30 to 60 feet high.

  • caves: Hundreds of carved caves
  • Charter: 51,000 niches and statues of Buddha

So far, more than 50 caves have been excavated and more than 50,000 Buddha stone statues carved into the rock have been discovered.


The caves vary considerably in size. Some are big enough to bury their heads in, while others are big enough to go in and see the large stone statues with other smaller statues carved around them in incredible detail.

Related: Houtouwan: the Chinese ghost town, restored by nature

Visit to the Yungang Caves

The gateway to the Yungang Caves is the nearby city of Datong. Yungang Cave Caves (also known as Yungang Cave Temples) are just a 30-minute drive west of Datong, China.

Another attraction in the cave is the Ming Dynasty fortress, which is still located on top of the Yungang Cave Rock.


If someone is planning to visit the site, plan to spend half a day there. It usually takes about half a day to explore the large park.

  • Necessary time: 4 hours
  • Work time: 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

If anyone is also planning to visit the picturesque southern Chinese province of Sichuan, then visit the huge giant Buddha statues carved into the rock there.

Guided tour of the Yungang Caves

There are a number of guided tours in English offered by the Yungang Caves. Thechinaguide.com offers a day-long guided tour of Beijing to the historical sites around Datong.

The tour visits the Henshan Hanging Temple (an ancient Buddhist temple, uncertainly located on the site of a rock). The Henshan Hanging Temple is the only temple that still exists today that combines Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism.


Then the tour goes to the Yungang Caves. The tour can be adapted and customized according to one’s preferences.

The tour takes an arrow train from Beijing to Datong (lasting about 2 hours).

  • Duration: One day
  • Main attractions: Jungan Caves and Henshan Hanging Temple
  • Included: English language guide
  • Price: Ask for an offer

The tour includes a private English-speaking guide, air-conditioned transfer vehicle, access to all attractions along the route (no hidden costs), food and full support.

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