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Longmen Grottoes, an Oasis of Buddhist statues

Located in the bank of Yi River, the southern suburb of Luoyang, Longmen Grottoes were first built in the 5th century. It is characterized by the longest construction time (from 494AD in Northern Wei Dynasty to 907AD in Tang Dynasty) and the grandest project scale among all cultural relics in China.

Longmen Grottoes are distributed mainly along the cliff of Longmen and Xiang Hills in two banks of Yi River, Luoyang suburbs, about 1000m long in length. There are 110,000 statues of Buddha and 3600 pieces of inscription kept intact among 2000 caves, with about 70 Buddha Towers. Fengxian temple is well worth recommendation; it is the largest and typical open stone inscription art.

map longmen grottoes

Longmen Grottoes visualize the profound and abstract Buddhism culture by sculptures  ranging from 2cm to 17m, exquisite paintings and the largest number of ancient inscriptions in China. Thus, Longmen Grottoes, together with Mogao Grottoes in Dunhuang, Yungang Grottoes in Shanxi and Maijishan Grottoes in Gansu have enjoyed the reputation as China Top Four Buddhist Grottoes.

Due to its historical, religious, aesthetic value, Longmen Grottoes have been enlisted as the national key protectorate of cultural relics in 1961 and in 1982 it was listed as the national scenery spot. The world heritage committee remarked “the Longmen Grottoes’ caves and niches embody the grandest and most outstanding art form during 493 to 907, and the artworks devoted to Buddhism theme represent the peak of stone carving art in China.” The year 2000 saw it was inscribed upon the UNESCO World Heritage List.


Longmen Grottoes


Highlights of Longmen Grottoes


Among all the grottoes, 30% were built in the North Wei Dynasty, 60% in the Tang Dynasty, and 10% in other periods. On the west hill cliffs, there are fifty grottoes constructed during the North Wei, Sui, and Tang Dynasties, and on the east hill, the three main grottoes were dug during the Tang Dynasty. The representative Grottoes on the west hill are Guyang,Binyang, Lianhua, Yaofang Grotto built during the North Wei Dynasty and Qianxi, kanjing, Wangfo, Fengxian, Dawangwufo Grottoes built during the Tang Dynasty. Few grottoes are built on east hill, because the geological construction is not suitable for digging carves, and the statues in them are moving constantly.

Binyang Grottoes, the oldest Grotto

Binyang Grottoes consist of three caves, among them, Binyang Middle Grotto located in the north of the Longmen Hill is the oldest. It took 24 years to finish it. Now it is the representative works of the North Wei Dynasty (386-512). You can see the relics and 11 breathtaking Buddhism statues in it. Among them, the main statue is Sakyamuni statue with high nose, big eyes and dignified carriage, is a representative work of stone carving art in middle time of the North Wei Dynasty. Legend has it that there was a relief sculpture masterpiece named ”the Scene of the emperor and his queen worship the Buddhism Buddha” in it before, but was stolen and now displayed by New York Museum.


 Buddha Statue

 Lushena Statue 's bewildering expression

Yangfang Grotto(also called the Medical Prescription Grotto)

There are 140 kinds of traditional medical prescriptions inscribed on the stones or walls dating from the late Northern Wei to the early Tang Dynasty. They provide precious information for people to explore ancient Chinese medicine.

>>>Buddhism Sculptures

Fengxian Grotto shelters the Biggest Sculpture

At 17.14m high, Lushena Buddha Statue was built from 650-684, with China's only female Emperor: Wu Zetian as the blueprint. He has a 4m-high head and 1.9m-high ears.  Unlike Mona Lisa’s mysterious smile that stirs people’s fancy imagination, his smile can calm down your mind.

For thousands of years, he  overlooks the world, just like a wise and well-cultivated sage who has witnessed the change of seasons, the rise and fall of dynasties, and is ready to tell you the ancient stories and discuss philosophy with you.

All sculptures around it look magnificent and harmonious. Flanking the Sakyamuni Buddha statue are his disciples Anan, Jiaye, Pusan, Lishi and Tianwang. Some of them are kind and modest. While,Tanwang and Lishi, are wrathful. Without exception, these sculptures mirror a harmonious blend various influences.

Wang Fo Dong boasts 15,000 statues

Wan Fo Dong sits south of Binyang Grotto, housing more than 15,000 Buddhism Buddha statues inside. It was built in 680 by emperor Gaozong and Wu Zetian. The main Buddha statue sits on lotus and its background is carved with 54 lotuses each engraved with Buddha statues on it. The smallest one is just 2cm in height. Above the dome of the grotto, there are a lot of graceful dancers carved by relief sculpture techniques, with vivid expression.



Wan Fo Dong (means cave with ten thousand Buddha statues)

Jinan Grotto, the scariest Stature: The King Kong Statue

The King Kong Statue is simply a piece of art. It was spotted near Jinan Grotto in 1953, at that time, lots of statures were stolen or damaged, and it was left over by the thieves. He looks outrange, and glares at outside world, with clenched hands. Anyone who stare at him for over 6 seconds, won’t forget him lifetime. Some even has nightmares when stare at him to long. The whole statue impresses us by its rough and bold outline as well as imposing air. 


 The King Kong Statue(right), King kong has superpowder to destroy all evil forces 


Calligraphic Inscriptions

Longmen Grottoes contain nearly 2,850 stelae and inscriptions scattered among Guyang Grotto ,Binyang Grotto, Lianhua Grotto, and enjoy the reputation as “Forest of Ancient Stelae"

Among them, Guyang Grotto (Guyang Dong),which is located in the south of Longmen Hill and was built in North Wei Dynasty, is the oldest grotto with most rich content, and is the best place to see the calligraphy inscriptions. It houses “Longmen 20 calligraphy inscriptions” which is renowned as the peak of calligraphy art typical of Wei and Tang dynasties and provide clue to researchers who strive to study them. Kang Youwei, scholar in the Qing Dynasty praised highly of the calligraphy here.


Copy of Longmen 20 Inscriptions

the King Kong statue

Artistic Value of Longmen Grottoes

Longmen Grottoes interpret sculpture art’s various principles by their own unique language. Suppose Michelangelo behold Lengmen Grottoes, he will be driven crazy by their majesty and delicacy also. Sharing similar style with the Yungang Grottoes, Longmen Grottoes absorb the India Grotto elements and take in Han culture of China since year 494, thus acquires the Han aesthetic features and embraces the trend of secularization and Han cultural assimilation, positioned as a landmark for China grotto innovation in history.

Yungang Grottoes’ stone sculptures are rough, stately and vigorous, while Longmen Grottoes’ sculptures are  gentle, lively, delicate and pretty. Slim was regarded as standard of beauty in the Northern Wei Dynasty, thus the sculptures of that era has flat chest, slim shoulder, carved with straight lines. While in the Tang Dynasties,  plumpness is a prized merit, and the standard of beauty, thus the sculptures are shaped with round face, wide shoulder and big chest, carved by gentle and flowing lines. In the Tang Dynasty, Longmen Grottoes sculptures reached the peak of Buddhism art.

In addition to Buddhism Buddha sculptures, Longmen Grottoes’ inscriptions are of high artistic and historical value . “Longmen 20 inscriptions” is the unparalleled masterpieces of calligraphy.

Though mainly embody the Buddhism culture, Longmen Grottoes reflect the political, economy and cultural aspect of that time. A profusion of materials relating to religion, architecture, calligraphy, music, fashion and medicine are of high research value for us to study history. Taking all the aspects mentioned above, Longmen Grottoes well fit the name as “The Living Museum of Stone Sculptures”.


 Author: Sophia  Posted on April 2, 2012


►Longmen Grottoes in Wikipedia:



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