go to content go to search box go to global site navigation

Introducing Longmen Caves

An invaluable Unesco World Heritage site, the ravaged grottoes at Longmen constitute one of China’s few surviving masterpieces of Buddhist rock carving. A sutra in stone, the epic achievement of the Longmen Caves (Dragon Gate Grottoes; Lóngmén Shíkū; admission Y80, English speaking guide Y100; 6am-8pm summer, 6.30am-7pm winter) was first undertaken by chisellers from the Northern Wei dynasty, after the capital was relocated here from Dàtóng in AD 494. Over the next 200 years or so, more than 100, 000 images and statues of Buddha and his disciples emerged from over a kilometre of limestone cliff wall along either bank of the Yi River (Yī Hé), 16km south of the city.

In the early 20th century, many statues were beheaded by unscrupulous collectors or simply extracted whole, many ending up abroad. Also removed were two murals that today hang in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Atkinson Museum in Kansas City. Some effigies are slowly returning and heads are being slowly restored to their severed necks, but other statues have had their faces crudely smashed off, deliberate defacement that dates to the dark days of the Cultural Revolution (the Ten Thousand Buddha Cave was particularly damaged during this period).