Longmen Grottoes — Royal Stone Carving Caves on Cliff and Buddhist Art Wonders
Panoramic of Longmen Grottoes on West Hill, Photo from Official Site of Longmen Caves.
What Are the Longmen Grottoes?
Longmen Grottoes or Longmen Caves, an invaluable artistic wonder of Buddhist stone carving, consists of many ancient royal caves constructed mainly during the Northern Wei (386 — 534) and Tang (618 — 907) dynasties.
As a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage, Longmen Grottoes holds great religious, artistic, historic, and cultural values.
Stone Carving Statues of Longmen, Photo by wwbb1961.
History of Longmen Grottoes.
Since then, more royals and nobles followed his step and opened more caves there.
Afterward, the grottoes had been constructed on and off in the next 1400 years, but also suffered big losses several times in history, by manual and natural causes.
Until 1953, an agency was formed to preserve the Longmen Grottoes, which received national level conservations since then and was listed as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage in 2000.
Stone Carving Statues and Inscriptions of Longmen, Photo by Yunfei.
Important Data of Longmen Grottoes.
It is located in Luoyang city, Henan Province of China;
Over 2300 caves and niches of the Longmen Grottoes are scattered on cliffs on two sides of Yi River and stretching for about 1000 meters long;
There are over 110,000 Buddhist stone statues, varying from17.14 meters to 2 centimeters tall, and 2,800 carved stele inscriptions in those caves and niches;
There is a Prescription Cave, or Yaofangdong, in which carved over 150 medical prescriptions with easily reachable herbs to cure ordinary diseases.
These are the earliest existing stone-carved prescriptions, and many of them are still in use today.
Carved Prescriptions in Prescription Cave or Yaofangdong.
How Did the Longmen Grottoes Connect to Royals?
Besides being a Buddhist stone carving wonder, the grottoes of Longmen also had close connections to royals.
Stone Carving Statues, Inscriptions, and Reliefs of Guyang Cave.
Central Binyang Cave
Central Binyang Cave was built from 500 to 523 by Emperor Xuanwu of the Northern Wei Dynasty, to pray for blessing to departed Emperor Xiaowen and Empress Wenzhao.
Reliefs of Empress Wenzhao Worshiping Buddha Used to in Central Binyang Cave — Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Northern Binyang Cave
Northern Binyang Cave, started in the year 500 by Emperor Xuanwu as well but was forced to pause after the Northern Wei Dynasty was ended in 534.
Later, this cave was completed in the early Tang Dynasty (618 — 907).
Buddha Statues in Northern Binyang Cave, Photo from Official Site of Longmen Caves.
Southern Binyang Cave
Southern Binyang Cave was firstly constructed in 500 by Emperor Xuanwu and later completed by prince Li Tai (620 — 652) to pray for Empress Zhangsun, the beloved queen of the Emperor Taizong of Tang.
Buddha Statue of Longmen Caves, Photo from Official Site of Longmen Caves.
The 17.14 meters tall Vairocana Buddha, or Lushena Dafo, built from 672 to 675, was supported and modeled by Wu Zetian when she was the queen.
A few years later in the year 690, she enthroned and became the only female emperor in the history of China.
Vairocana Buddha in Fengxian Temple, Photo by Wuye.
Longmen Stele was written by Emperor Zhenzong of Song (968 — 1022) when he was visiting Longmen.
Part of the Longmen Stele Written by Emperor Zhenzong of Song.
Wanfo Cave, or Ten Thousand Buddhas Cave, finished in 680 and supported by a female court official of the Tang Dynasty, has over 15,000 about 4 centimeters tall Buddha figures.
Wanfo Cave, Photo by Wuye.
What's Special with Location Longmen?
Longmen Grottoes are carved in Longmen Mountains next to Yi River, in Luoyang City.
Afterward, in local legends, a carp that could leap over the turbulent current there will incarnate into a Chinese Dragon or Loong.
Therefore, it was named Longmen, which means the gate of dragons.
In Chinese culture, fish leaping over Longmen has been a famous phrase that symbolizes achieving great success after intense competitions and diligent work.
Picture of Fish Leaping Over Longmen (Yuyue Longmen), Designed by Quejiao.
The Longmen Mountains and Yi River area had been an ancient battlefield where general Bai Qi won a big war in 293 BC, which opened up the chapter of State Qin's annexing of other kingdoms and establishing the unified Qin Dynasty (221 BC — 207 BC).
Luoyang city had been the capital city of many dynasties in history, including Xia (2070 BC — 1600 BC), Shang (1600 BC — 1046 BC), Zhou (1046 BC — 256 BC), Eastern Han (25 AD — 220 AD), Sui (589 — 619), and so on.
The political, cultural, and geographical importance of this city were significant reasons for Emperor Xiaowen, the first cave builder, to migrate his capital city to Luoyang city.
Wu Zetian, one of the most important patrons of the Longmen Grottoes and the only female emperor in Chinese history, set Luoyang as the capital city during her reign (690 — 705) for more complicated reasons.
Xiangshan Temple next to Longmen Grottoes, Firstly Constructed During Wu Zetian's Reign.
What Cultural Aspects that the Longmen Grottoes Show?
As an exceptional Buddhist wonder in the important ancient capital city of Luoyang, the artworks of the Longmen Caves show many cultural aspects of China mainly from the 4th to the 10th century.
Destructions and Protection
Throughout history, besides natural weathering, the Longmen Caves had suffered many destructions that were caused by man forces.
During Emperor Wuzong of Tang's reign (840 — 846), he implemented a Persecution of Buddhism that caused big destruction. Meanwhile, for political concerns, those royal-related caves and statues were preserved.
In 1932, many caves were blown up for constructing roads by the government of The Republic of China.
From the late Qing Dynasty (1636 — 1912) to the 1930s, some statues, reliefs, and stone inscriptions were cut off, sold for money, and dispersed abroad, during the chaos of endless wars.
Stone Guardian Lion Used to be in Wanfo Cave — Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (Photo by Dongmaiying)
In 1953, an agency to preserve the grottoes was constructed.
Since then, it has received national-level conservation and was listed as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage in 2000.
Nowadays, more efforts are being made to preserve and recover the Longmen Grottoes, including the returning of a statue of Arhat by the National Gallery of Canada in 2001 and restoring damaged relics using modern technologies.
Restored Colors of the Vairocana Buddha using Modern Light and Shadow Technology.
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