The Longmen Grottoes are located sixteen kilometers south of Luoyang in Henan province, on the banks of the Yi River. They constitute a world-renowned artistic treasure, now protected as a National Key Cultural Relics Protected Unit and listed as a World Cultural Heritage Site in 2000. The grottoes were begun in the year 494 AD, around the time the Northern Wei Emperor Xiao Wen moved the capital to Luoyang. The caves then passed through some 400 years of carving and construction, through the dynasties of East and West Wei, Northern Qi, Sui, Tang, and Northern Song. The grottoes honeycomb the mountains.
Altogether there are more than 2,100 grottoes at Longmen, with more than 100,000 statues, some 3,600 inscriptions and stelaes, and forty Buddha's stupas. The finest grottoes are the Northern Wei-period Guyang Grotto, the Binyang Grotto, the Lianhua Grotto, and the Tang-dynasty Qianxi Temple, among others. Some of the stelaes and inscriptions have become treasures among China's calligraphic arts, including the Tang-dynasty calligraphed work by Chu Suiliang (596-659).
The Binyang Grotto is on the northern part of Longmen Mountain and is composed of three caves. The middle one was begun around 500 AD and was finished in 523, so took twenty-four years to complete. It is recorded that 802,366 craftsmen worked on this grotto. The central Buddha or Sakyamuni and two Bodhisatvas have long, thin faces, and the folds of their clothing is very fine, a characteristic of Northern Wei art. The Lotus?flower or Lianhua Grotto was built in the late Northern Wei period. Its main Sakyamuni is standing and is 5.1 meters tall. The cave is carved with architectural details and floral designs, with scrolling grass patterns, lotus flowers, Baoxiang flowers and so on, all very finely carved. A large lotus flower is carved in high relief on the ceiling.
The Yaofang Grotto, which depicts medicinal cures, is in the northern part of Longmen Mountain. It was begun in the late Northern Wei period and was finished during the Tang-dynasty period of Empress Wu Zetian, so construction lasted around two hundred years. This is the only relatively large cave at Longmen that has Northern Qi statues. Some 140 different kinds of medicines and treatments of various illnesses are carved on either side of the cave entryway, which are very important research material for study of China's ancient pharmacopeia.
The Fengxian Temple is at the southern end of Longmen Mountain. It was begun in 672 and completed over the next four years. This contains representative works of Tang-dynasty carving arts. The Buddha is huge, and is accompanied by eleven sculptures including disciples, Bodhisatvas, the King of Heaven, Guards and so on. According to the inscription on the sculptures, Wu Zetian helped finance the construction with twenty?thousand 'guan' of money, and personally participated in leading ministers in the ceremony of 'opening the light,' i.e. opening the eyes of the Buddha. There is a large stone on the east bank of the Yi River, commonly called the beating-the-drum rock, which is said to be where Wu Zetian played music at the time of the ceremony.
Henan Province, to the south of Luoyang City
More Museums in Henan Province