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Xiangtangshan Grottoes


The 1400-year-old Xiangtangshan Grottoes is an oasis of Buddhism tucked at the southwest outskirt of Handan city, Hebei Province. The Northern Qi period (500-557)saw its birth  and successive dynasties include the Sui, Tang, Song, Yuan,Ming  witnessed its intermittent expansion.

By now, there are over 5,000 Buddha statues scattering in two sites 15 miles away from each other: Nortern Xiangtangshan and Soutern Xiangtangshan. The 16 grottoes remain intact are carved out of the finest stone and all nestled among the forest with murmuring brooks. Its 450 Buddhism niches as well as numerous inscriptions and engraved sūtras are of high historical and academic value.
xiangtangshan grottoes map
Xiangtangshan Grottoes’ architecture, the rare even only remains of that period, is very unique. While the statues are famed as “the epitome of Northern Qi Statues ”, the biggest art treasure passed down from the Northern Qi period.

There is a very interesting phenomenon here, if people clap their hands or walk, or talk, or laugh inside of the grottoes, there will be a very clear echo because these grottoes sit in the halfway of mountains, thus deriving its named as Xiangtang Grottoes.

Xiangtangshan is the largest stone grottoes spotted in Hebei Province by now, and it ranks top among the national key cultural protection sites, the AAAA national level scenic site and the Four Star Forest Garden.

Xiangtangshan Grottoes shelter over 5000 Buddha Statues

Northern and Southern Xiangtangshan Grottoes

The two main groups of caves are known as Northern and Southern Xiangtangshan. The Northern Group, Bei Xiangtangshan, is the earliest and largest in scale and has three caves begun with imperial sponsorship; the Southern Group, Nan Xiangtangshan, has smaller caves numbered from one to seven.

Northern Xiangtangshan Grottoes

Northern Xiangtangshan has 9 grottoes: Daye Grotto, Kejing Grotto, Two Buddha Grotto, Jiaqian Grotto, Anonymous Grotto, Dafo Grotto and the remaining two grottoes are unnamed. Among them, Dafo Grotto is 13m in width, 11.4 in height, and 13.3 in depth, the biggest and best decorated one. The Sakyamuni statue it houses is 5 m in height, with well-proportion stature and stately air, the biggest among Xiangtangshan Grottoes’ statues. Fashioned with the most outstanding skills and flamboyant decoration, it is the representative works of Northern Qi dynasty.

the 5 meters high Sakyamuni statue, the biggest statue in this site

Southern Xiangtangshan Grottoes

Seven Grottoes scatter in South Xiangtangshan Grottoes site: Huayan Grotto, Banruo Grotto, Kong Grotto, Amitabha Grotto, Sakyamuni Grotto, King Kong Grotto and Thousand-Buddha Grotto. Among them, Huayan Grotto is 4.9m in height, 6.3 m in length and width, ranks as the largest among 7 grottoes mentioned above. Inside of it engraved with the Buddhism stūpa. Relief sculptures can be seen on its south wall and center column. Thousand-Buddha Grotto above Huayan Grotto is one of the best preserved. Inside of it, there are 1028 statues, thus has this name. A lotus flower decorates the heart of the domed ceiling, and surrounded by flying divinities in pairs. This cave features fabricated layout and exquisite sculptures, among which the grand sculpture on the exterior wall and the flying divinities are of unparallel aesthetic beauty in particular.

Decoration Pattern on the dome of grotto


Lotus and Flying Divinities decorate the domed ceiling

various decoration pattern

 Forms and Characteristics of the Xiangtangshan Grottoes

Xiangtangshan Grottoes are fashioned in three forms. The first kind is square grotto with flat ceiling and a center column whose three sides or one side carved with niches. This center column is the simplified form of Yungang Grottoes’ center column, thus is more appealing and graceful. Sourthern Xiangtangshan’ Grotto One and Two, Northern Xiangtangshan’s Grotto Six and Nine belong to this category.

Among all grottoes with center columns, Northern Xiangtangshan Grotto Six (also named Dafo Grotto), 13 m in width, 13.3m in depth and 11.4m in height, is the biggest one with the most delicate statues. The seat Buddha set into the center column is 3.5 m in height, the biggest statue in Xiangtangshan Grottoes. A number of 16 niches are carved into the column, all are well-decorated.

The second kind is square grotto with domed ceiling engraved with relief lotus blossom and flying divinities, and its three sides carved with niches which contain the Buddha statues. Southern Xiangtangshan’ Grotto Three, Five and seven, Northern Xiangtangshan’ Grotto Two and Three are typical examples. This grotto form basically inherits that of Longmen Grottoes.

Southern Xiangtangshan Grotto 7, also called Thousand-Buddha Cave, is one of the best preserved. It is 4.6m in width, 3.75 in height and 5.2m in depth. Two King Kong statues guard the door on each side. Inside of this grotto, its three sides are carved with niches containing one Buddha, two of his attendants and two Bodhisattvas. The front wall is carved with one thousand Buddha statues. The dome is engraved with giant lotus, surrounded by flying divinities and other patterns, which is the masterpiece.

The third form consists of square grotto with flat ceiling or unique shaped ceiling called Fudouding. Inside of this kind of grotto, its four walls have altars, and rows of statues are put onto the altars by five or seven as a group on the left, right wall and wall facing the door. King Kong statues are carved along the front wall’s altars. This form was integrated into the second form in the past, despite the fact it is the newly rising star duing Northern Qi dynasty, and it is not until Sui and Tang dynasties, that it appears in Longmen Grottoes again.

The Statues’ Style in Xiangtangshan Grottoes

Buddha statues in this period features stout body, high nose, long eyes as well as plump face. Bodhisattvas statues are distinguished by their round and well-built body. Southern Xiangtangshan Grotto Seven’s statue, for example, is the representative one.

Xiangtangshan Grottoes’ statues cladding with thin, simple and clingy attires feature stout body with cylinder shape in general, with their upper body greater than upper body comparatively. During Northern Wei Dynasty, lines play a big role in shaping statues, while in Xiangtangshan Grottoes, the emphasis is transferred, and to highlight the volume of physical body is the focus instead. Xiangtangshan Grottoes marks a transitional period, and plays a great role in paving the way for Sui and Tang dynasties. Its labyrinth grottoes and numerous altars all adopt the relief sculptures with the most diversified patterns, thus produce overwhelming visual impact.

 The Vivid Buddha statue

 Bodhisattvas Statue with round carving techniques

Carving Skills

Xiangtangshan’s carving techniques inherit that of Northern Wei dynasty, and adopt innovative skills meanwhile. In Northern Wei dynasty, straight carving technique prevails, and the statues looks simple, rough and rigid. In Xiangtangshan, the round carving technique is adopted, thus the statues embrace more charming lines and details, and they are instilled with life and distinctive characters under the hands of those skilled artists. Those artists are very successful in shaping various characters of these statues.

Besides, the integration of stone sculpture with colorful murals is another highlight of this site. In Northern Xiangtanshan Grotto Nine’s wall bottom, the donor sculptures are carved without any decoration, and color paintings are used to enrich the details. The “King and Queen Worship the Buddha” relief sculptures on two sides of this grotto follow this practice also.

Statue boasts flowing lines and vivid expression

Further Reading

The Northern Qi dynasty (550-577) is part of the Northern Dynasties period (420-589). Though regarded as a period of political unrest and endless warfare, the brief Northern Qi period saw the arts flourish in a multicultural environment. The close interaction between Han and minority group’s artisans, patrons in China fostered new, often hybrid, art forms.

Xiangtangshan Grottoes is abundant in the most prominent inscriptions of Northen Qi dynasty, and scholars form home and abroad, attach great importance to them. Its grottoes are mainly constructed during Northern Qi dynasty, only 6 grottoes constructed during Sui, Tang, Ming dynasties and they are smaller in size, with fewer decorations. The cliffs outside of those grottoes are carved for niches to contain statues also. There are 50 built during Sui, and 300 during Tang.

Both Northern and Sourthern Xiangtangshan Grottoes have ancillary buildings. Under Northern Xiangtangshan, lies the Changle Temple covering an area of 7000 square meters, which contain Song Tower, the stone stele and statues span from Song to Qing dynasties. Southern Xiangtangshan’s vicinity has Song Tower, ancient palaces and buildings.

Xiangtangshan Grottoes, boasts the labyrinth of grottoes echoing to the past, the stunning sculptures with unparallel beauty, the heartbroken history when massive ruins have done to it, marks the stone sculpture’s transition from Yungang Grottoes to Longmen Grottoes. It is the treasure house for people to study Buddhism, architecture, murals, painting and calligraphy, the art gallery of Northern Qi art, and the encyclopedia for scholars.

Its uniqueness and originality is irreplaceable and wins its place among top 10 grottoes in China, peer with Maogao Grottoes, Yungang Grottoes and Longmen Grottoes. In 1959, premier Zhou Enlai, paid a visit to Southern Xiangtangshan against the rain, and praised the flying divinities of Qianfo Cave, Grotto 7. Thus, this grotto escaped the disastrous political uproar during that period. In 1961, it is listed as the first list of key cultural protection site in China. Scholars like Fan Wenlan, Guo Moruo and Lu Xun speak highly of this site.

Travel Tips:

Xiangtangshan Grottoes, sits in the Drum Mountain in Fengfeng Mining area, 49 km southwest of Handan City, Hebei Province. Its two sites are 15 km away from each other.

Best Season to visit: during Lantern Festival (January 15, lunar calendar), for a profusion of festivities will be held during this period.

Accommodation: among more than 10 hotels, Four-starred Fengfeng Hotel is the best.



the Kingdom of Statues fashioned by the most genius mind


Thousand-Buddha Grotto in Southern Xiangtangshan Site


Changle Temple in Northern Xiangtangshan Site: 36m,it has two features: it has a fake door, which is very vivid, and many tower models were engraved on it, this is unusual.

Author: Sophia  Posted on Jun9,2012
Yuanyang Travel Tips
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