Yungang Grottoes

The Yungang Grottoes (Chinese云冈 石窟/云冈 石窟, Yungang Shiku Pinyin, Wolkengrat caves ' ), formerly Wuzhoushan caves are early Buddhist cave temples in the Chinese province of Shanxi. The caves are located in the large village Yungang (云冈 镇) of the district Nanjiao Datong City, about 16 km west of the city center in the valley of the Shi Li river at the foot of the Wuzhou Shan. They have been worked out mainly in the period 460-525 AD during the Northern Wei Dynasty from the sandstone and are an outstanding example of Chinese stone carving from the early days of Buddhism in China. Overall, the total system consists of 252 caves and niches. The facility is registered in the list of World Heritage Sites since 2001.


With the decline of the Jin Dynasty established itself in the northern part of China, which also includes the surrounding area of Datong counts, the dynasty of the Northern Wei. She made Datong, at that time still under the name Pingcheng to your capital. Although Buddhism for the new dynasty was initially a foreign religion, they promoted him considerably, especially since in the former Buddhist school of Buddhism, a well-disposed ruler was equated with the living Buddha. At the time of commencement in the year 460, Buddhism was already largely consolidated in the area of ​​Wei Dynasty as the state religion. Work on the Yungang Grottoes extended over a total period of 65 years from 460-525 AD, but where there were interruptions over again. The building can be divided into three phases ( see also the description of the caves below). First, the early phase of 460-465, which was run under the monk Tan Yao and is characterized by five monumental caves. Six years after the end of the middle phase begins early extending from 471-494. This phase is characterized by the promotion by the ruling house and, with the numerous twin and triplet cave the core of the entire system. The last main section applies the late phase of 494-525, which was ensured by private patronage and has therefore produced mainly small caves and niches. The transition from the second to the third phase of construction was triggered by the capital of the Wei dynasty was moved to Luoyang in 494, and thus the interest of the ruling dynasty ended on progress of the work. After Datong was rocked by riots in the year 523, the city temporarily depopulated, so that finally, in the year 525, the work finally came to a halt.

Since completion of the work the caves and statues are heavily exposed to weathering, as they are made of sandstone. Therefore, it was in the following centuries repeatedly effort to maintain or restore the state of the caves. Even during the Liao Dynasty, in the years 1049-1060, many already damaged statues were restored and built the so-called " 10 temples of Yungang " in front of the caves, which were, however, a little bit later destroyed in 1122 by fire again. 1621 during the Qing Dynasty still preserved wooden buildings were built protection against two of the monumental caves to prevent further destruction of the caves due to weather conditions. During the whole time following restoration work on statues and caves were repeatedly made and painted the statues part again. Since 1950, efforts have been made by the Chinese government to get through security measures the state of the caves and statues. They tried both to limit the natural erosion caused by water penetrating the fact that resulting cracks were grouted and sealed as to limit the damage caused by sand storms by planting trees. In addition, an attempt was made to reduce the burden of the caves by pollution from nearby coal mines.

The caves are since 1961 on the list of monuments of the People's Republic of China ( 1-34). They were proposed in the late 1990s for the UNESCO World Heritage Site and was added in 2001.

Description of the Caves

The complex extends over a length of about one kilometer along a sandstone wall at the foot of the Wuzhou Shan. The caves here follow the course of the river valley in east-west direction. The complex consists of 42 caves and 210 other niches with more than 51,000 Buddha statues. Since the caves were worked in the usual sandstone there and they were constantly exposed to the weather, especially the outdoor areas are heavily weathered to some extent. The caves can be divided stylistically into three different phases. The early phase of 460-465, the average of 471-494 and 494-525 of the late AD From the earliest construction date five monumental u -shaped scale main caves ( Nos. 16-20) at the western end of the central part of the plant. They were dug under the guidance of the monk Tan Yao and accommodate monumental statues in size of up to 15 m height.

The five large statues show different representations of Buddha; a seated Shakyamuni in No. 16, a seated Maitreya in No. 17, a standing Shakyamuni dressed in an ornate with many small bodhisattva figures robe in No. 18, another seated Shakyamuni ( with almost 17 m height of the second-largest in Yungang ) which is surrounded by meditating Bodhisattvas, in No. 19 and a 14 m high seated Buddha in the probably already in the 10th century collapsed cave No. 20 the statues but they are also representations of the reigning Emperor Wei - Wen Cheng (No. 16), Prince Jing Mu (No. 17), the Emperor Tai Wu (No. 18), the Emperor Ming Yuan (No. 19 ) as well as the Emperor Wu Dao (No. 20 ), which were seen as personifications of Buddha.

The figures are decorated with elaborately folded robes and rich decorations. At some of the monumental statues rectangular holes can be seen probably from a later period, when the statues were covered with layers of clay and redesigned. After the clay was removed later left the holes in the beams used to support the clay layer. There are thousands of smaller statues, some of the various mythical manifestations of Buddha representing Buddha as the past, present and future, partly depict scenes from the life of Siddhartha, partly represent images of its founders on the walls of caves. At the drafting of the clothes and jewelery of the figures it can be seen that the style of the statues from the early phase is strongly influenced by Indian total yet. Cave number 20 is now no longer recognizable as such, since the roof of the cave has collapsed over the centuries, and the statues contained in the cave standing outdoors now.

In the second phase, a series of twin caves ( Nos. 1-2, 5-6, 7-8, 9-10 ) is applied and a Drilling cave (No. 11-13). The caves of the middle phase represent both their number and the richness of its facilities by the most important part of the overall system represents the caves of the middle phase have a square base and partly a stupa as a column in the middle of the room. The style of the ornaments and figures it has now developed into a typical Chinese style, the relationship points to the linear, geometric style of the illustrations from the Han period.

The caves in the late phase (especially No. 21-45, 3, 4, 14 and 15 but also more than 200 other small caves and niches ) are smaller and much more mixed than the caves of the early and middle phases. While # 3 is a monumental ensemble of three Buddhas of the past, present and future are presented in cave, the cave No. 15 as Thousand Buddha Cave (Chinese千佛洞, pinyin Qian Fo Dong ) is known at the wall more than a thousand small Buddha and Bodhisattva statues are gathered from a few centimeters in size. In general, however, the ornamentation of the statues is elaborated with less details in the late phase.

The Yungang Grottoes, together with the Mogao Grottoes in Dunhuang and Longmen Grottoes in Luoyang, the most important examples of Buddhist Steinschnitzkunst in China.