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The Yungang Grottoes — 1,500-Year-Old Buddhist Art

The Yungang Grottoes near Datong extend about 1 km (0.6 miles) long with 45 major caves, 209 secondary caves, and a total carving area of more than 1.8 ha (4.4 acres).

There are about 1,100 niches, as well as 51,000 statues: the biggest is 17 meters tall, and the smallest just 2 cm. The Yungang Grottoes contain classical masterpieces of Chinese Buddhist art of the 5th and 6th centuries.

The Yungang Grottoes are a World Heritage Site.

The whole grotto complex is magnificent with delicate carvings. All the statues are precious and vivid, representing the development of art, architecture, music and religion up to 1,500 years ago.

The Yungang GrottoesThe Yungang Grottoes

In 2001, The Yungang Grottoes were enrolled as World Heritage by UNESCO.

The Yungang Grottoes Layout

There are many amazing caves in the Yungang Grottoes.

  • Caves in the east part are mainly built with pagodas.
  • Caves in the middle part usually have front and back rooms, with the main Buddhist statue in the center, and the walls and ceilings carved with sculptures.
  • Caves in the west part are medium and small caves and niches.

Yungang Grottoes Highlights — Caves 5 and 6

Caves 5 and 6 in the middle part of the Yungang Grottoes are the most impressive.Inside the 5th cave is a 17-meter-tall Buddhist statue, the largest in the Yungang Grottoes. Inside the 6th cave, besides large Buddhist statues, there are precious sculptures telling the story of Sakyamuni.

The Yungang Grottoes' sculpturesThe Yungang Grottoes' sculptures

The Yungang Grottoes' sculptures are magnificent.

The sculptures inside the caves are all magnificent and multi-colored with excellent workmanship.

For example, the 14-meter-high seated Sakyamuni statue outside grotto 20 commands respect, not only for its size, but also for the face of the figure, which is characterized by soft lines and a pair of eyes that radiate intellectual and spiritual vigor.

The Yungang Grottoes have free daily performances.

There have been two free daily performances on the square outside the grottoes from September to October since 2012. But whether they will be performed this year is not confirmed.

The Yungang GrottoesThe Yungang Grottoes

If you are lucky enough, you can have a feast of these two performances focusing on the folk and the Buddhist culture of the Northern Wei Dynasty(386–533).

Songs of Tan Yao

This performance shows Chinese folk performing arts, such as aerobatics, ethnic dances, and tea art. Actors get together on Tan Yao Square to sing the praises of Tan Yao, an eminent monk who originally excavated the grottoes.

  • Place: Tan Yao Square
  • Times: 9:30am, 10:30am, and 3pm

The Emperor Worships Buddha

This is a large-scale parade performance, looking back to scenes of royal family members worshipping Buddha in the Northern Wei Dynasty. The actors dress up as the emperor, queen, ministers, maids, and other characters of imperial China.

  • Place: Lotus Avenue
  • Times: 11:30am and 4pm

The construction of the Yungang Grottoes spanned about 60 years.

The Yungang Grottoes were first carved out of the sandstone cliffs of Wuzhou Mountain in 460 AD, during the Northern Wei Dynasty (386–533). The main construction spanned for about 60 ears, and it was mostly complete in 524.

The Yungang GrottoesThe Yungang Grottoes
  • The “early grottoes”are the five caves created by TanYao from 460 AD, numbered from 16–20. They were carved during the arrival of Buddhism in China. The caves were mainly built with pagodas.
  • The “middle grottoes” were carved from 471 to 494 AD, “the golden age of Yungang Grottoes carving”. These caves are numbered 1–13 except for 4 and 11. They usually have front and back rooms with the main Buddhist statue in the center, while the walls and the ceilings are carved with sculptures.
  • The “late grottoes”are caves 4,11,14, and 15 carved from 494 to 524. These caves and niches are medium and small in size, due to the decline in carving at that time.

The Yungang Grottoes are linked to the Silk Road.

The emergence of the art of the Yungang Grottoes (and the same applies even more emphatically to the Mogao Grottoes) is intimately linked to the Silk Road that connected China to the outside world from the 1st century BC to the 16th century AD.

The Yungang GrottoesA big statue and a small statue

How to Plan Your Visit

  • Entry: 130 yuan per person (70 yuan admission and 60 yuan for caves 5 and 6)
  • Location: about 16 km (10 mi) southwest of Datong city center, taking no more than 30 minutes by car
  • Transport from Datong city center:bus 3-1, 3-2, 10, or 12 (1 yuan); taxi (40 yuan)
  • Open:8:30am–5pm, April 15 – October 31; otherwise shut 4:30pm
  • Recommended visiting time: 2 hours

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