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Bingling Temple Grottoes

 Bingling Temple (炳灵寺), also known as Bingling Grottoes(Binglingsi) or Thousand Buddha Caves (Qian fodong), consists of Buddhist grottoes skirting along the “inaccessible” cliff of the Jishi (Piled Stone) Hills, about 35 km southwest of Yongjing County (a transportation hub along the ancient Silk Road connecting China with western countries), and some 80 km from Lanzhou.


Bingling Temple was chiseled out on the western cliff of Dasi (Great Temple) Valley on the right of the Yellow River and divided into three areas: upper, middle and lower grottoes (Xia si), with the lower grottoes area as the most impressive one.


Construction began in 420 AD during the Sixteen States period by the daring Buddhists who descended from the cliff through ropes to carve their masterpieces. This endeavor was carried on forward to include  the Northern Wei, Western Wei, Northern Zhou, Sui and Tang Dynasties. The illustrious Yuan and Ming Dynasties saw murals and decorations added to its chapels and cloisters.


Bingling Temple Grottoes is the result of 1600 years' continuos expansion. Caves from the Song (960-1279 AD) and the Ming (1368-1644 AD) Dynasties stand for the Pinnacle of Artistic Achievement.


From 420AD to the Song Dynasty, Bingling Temple Grottoes plays a big role in spreading Buddhism after it was introduced into China. The temple was, in-between these golden years, to become a Tibetan Monastery (in the Yuan Dynasty, 1271-1368 AD).


During the period of the Sixteen States, the nobles of the Xianbei ethnic group established the Western Qin Regime here. They were for the Buddhism cult and so many eminent monks from inland and western regions swarmed to the place, preaching and sermonizing. The Dasi Valley in the Minor Jishi Hills within the territory of the Western Qin, namely the area where Bingling Temple was located came to be the Buddhist venue of the time.


A total of 183 grottoes survived till today contain 694 well-preserved stone Buddha statues, 82 clay sculptures, and 900 square meters of frescoes or murals, and some are the oldest caves in China.



 Bingling Temple Boasts Enchanting Scenery

Visit Bingling Temple Grottoes by Boat

Features of Bingling Temple


Just like Mogao Grottoes famous for murals and Maijishan Grottoes renowned for clay sculptures, Bingling Temple is famous for its well-preserved stone sculptures and Buddhism towers. Bingling Temple is the rare Stone Grottoes in China, ranking as top four stone grottoes nationwide, with high artistic value equal to that of Mogao Grottoes.


A number of 183 grottoes were carved out of the cliff's porous stone to contain over 694 stone statues and 82 clay statues. The statues vary with sizes, the largest is a giant 27 meter-high (90 feet) seated Maitreya, the future Buddha, and the smallest is a miniscule 25 cm in height. A series of winding walkways and stairs snake their way along the cliffs facilitate people to tour around.


The maitreya Buddha statue Bingling Temple shelters is one of the biggest in China which has weathered the trial of time and disasters since the Tang Dynasty era(618-907). It resembles the bigger giant statues built about 250 years earlier in Central Asia, thus indicating the hidden cultural ties with that region. It is the earliest Buddhist grottoes date from about 420 AD embodies the Indian features and costumes. 



 the 27-meter-high Seated Maitreya

The geological formation of the Jishi Hills is of fine sandstone structure which is easy to be caved and engrave, but it doesn’t resist the erosion of wind and water. Bingling temple once was impaired by earthquakes and wars also, but thanks to the climate and its remote location, it is preserved so well, the best among all grottoes in China, is a miracle by itself already.


Constructed during Western Qin Dynasty, it is considered to be one of China's oldest grottoes, housing a faded Buddha and 2 Bodhisattvas. This cave, covering an area of 200 square meters, also holds the earliest epigraph of any of China's caves.



Grotto 169


The Bingling Temple is a midpoint between the monumental Buddhas of Bamiyan in Middle East and the Buddhist Grottoes of central China’s Yungang Grottoes and Longmen Grottoes, stylistically and geographically. Each grotto is like a miniature temple filled with Buddha statues. Among them, Grotto 169 is the biggest and oldest, the essential part and the shining star of Bingling Temple. It was named as “Tang Shu Grotto”, now is called as “Tian Qiao Dong”. 9m in depth, 16m in height and 27m in width, it is a cave formed by Mother Nature originally, and now it is one of the earliest Buddhism grottoes in China.


The Buddha statues and murals inside highlight the primitive artistic style and characteristics of the Buddhism when it took root in China, thus is of high artistic and historical value. Inside of Grotto 169, a profusion of Buddhism shrines, stone sculptures and clay sculptures with stone core scatter orderly. Grotto 169 is also home to Buddhism statues of Amitayus Buddha, Guanyin Buddha, and Bodhisattvas. Amitayus Buddha crosses his legs and sits on lotus, bearing a stately air. The representative works of the Northern Wei finds its expression in Cave 169, all of them are the masterpieces well kept in the Bingling Temple Grotto.


The sculptures, carvings, and frescoes that remain are outstanding examples of Buddhist artwork and draw visitors from around the world like a magnet. Besides the temple, the journey itself is impressive as well as challenging, especially within close proximity to the caves. The cliff face, 60 meters high, is part of the northern side of a gorge formed by the Yellow River. Below the caves sits the famous Liujiaxia Reservoir, and it takes three hours to cross, allowing you to appreciate the stunning scenery which unveil itself slowly before you!



 Mural in Grotto 169

 Statue in Grotto 169

Travel Tips:
Best Season: between July and November.
Open time: varies slightly according to different seasons, usually close at about 5 or 6 pm. It is open in the summer and in most of the fall, and maybe in the spring too.
How to go there:

First take a bus to Liujiaxia. It will take 2 hours to reach Bingling Temple. To maximize your stay at the site, you have better depart as early as possible in the morning.
The cost for private motorboats has to be bargained for. A group of eight may be able to hire a boat for 500 RMB( about 75 USD). The trip takes about an hour or more, depending on the boat.


Map of Bingling Grottoes/Bingling Temple/Binglingsi (click to enlarge)


bingling grotto temple map


 12 Stunning photos of Bingling Temple Grottoes

bingling temple grottoes
bingling temple grottoes
bingling temple grottoes
bingling temple grottoes
bingling temple grottoes
bingling temple grottoes
bingling temple grottoes
bingling temple grottoes



 Author: Sophia  Posted on May 6, 2012

Yuanyang Travel Tips
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