Buddhist Carvings at Longmen Caves

The Yi River and a beautiful bridge.

The Yi River and a beautiful bridge.

The grottoes and niches of Longmen contain the largest and most impressive collection of Chinese art of the late Northern Wei and Tang Dynasties (316-907). These works, entirely devoted to the Buddhist religion, represent the high point of Chinese stone carving.  (Source: UNESCO World Heritage site which also provides much more detail about the caves.)

There are caves on both sides of the Yi (Yishui) River (shui is the word for water) to the south of the ancient capital of Luoyang, Henan province. The slopes of the west and east hills become very steep and cliff-like as they approach the river valley, and it is here that the easily worked limestone was carved.

I believe we visited the West side of the river, but it was mid-day so the shadows in this photo, which suggest we were on the north side, are misleading.

All along the limestone cliff of of the mountain were grottoes and caves and niches and statues of all shapes and sizes.

All along the limestone cliff of of the mountain were grottoes and caves and niches and statues of all shapes and sizes.

To the left you can see a cable supporting part of the cliff, and you can see that how individual statues are damaged.

To the left you can see a cable supporting part of the cliff, and you can see that how individual statues are damaged.

Hundreds of tiny buddhas surrounded some of the larger sculptures.

Hundreds of tiny buddhas surround some of the larger sculptures.

A stele (plural steles, from Greek: στήλη, stēlē) is a stone or wooden slab, generally taller than it is wide, erected as a monument, very often for funerery or commemorative purposes. They very often have texts and may have decoration, which may be inscribed, carved in relief, or painted onto the slab.

A stele (from Greek: στήλη, stēlē) is a stone or wooden slab, generally taller than it is wide, erected as a monument, very often for funerery or commemorative purposes. They very often have texts and may have decoration, which may be inscribed, carved in relief, or painted onto the slab.

In total 2,345 niches or grottoes have been recorded on the two sides of the river in a one kilometer long stretch. They house more than 100,000 Buddhist statues, about 2,500 stelae and inscriptions, and over 60 Buddhist pagodas or stupas.

Many of the statues were painted bright colours.

Many of the statues were originally painted bright colours.

Not the best preserved carving - but not bad for a 1500 year old piece of art.

Not the best preserved carving – but not bad for a 1500 year old piece of art.

It was very crowded around the statues, and it was HOT; the highest temperature that I can recall during our whole trip.  There was nowhere to get out of the sun. By the time we reached some of the major grottoes, the heat had gotten to me and I couldn’t take yet another climb.  My favourite photo in this set.

My favourite photo in this set.

Longmen Caves-2740

As we neared the end of our guided tour, we were offered the choice of walking back, or paying the equivalent of about 40 cents to ride a small passenger boat.

Longmen Caves-2744

We all chose the boat (at least there was shade!) Hence, these views from the river.

View of the caves from the river.

View of the caves from the river.

View of the other side (east side?) of the river from the small ferry we took back to the site's entrance.

View of the other side (east side?) of the river from the small ferry.

Next post:  Suzhou – Venice of the East

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2 comments on “Buddhist Carvings at Longmen Caves

  1. Such beautiful pictures. Good thing you weren’t afraid of heights on those cliffs:)

    • buntymcc says:

      Anywhere you were allowed to go was well fenced off with proper stairs, guard rails, and hand rails so there was never any fear of falling.

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