General Introduction

In 2001, the Yungang Grottoes became an UNESCO World Heritage Site. According to UNESCO, they are a “masterpiece of early Chinese Buddhist cave art represent the successful fusion of Buddhist religious symbolic art from south and central Asia with Chinese cultural traditions.”

The Yungang Grottoes stretch continuously for as long as one kilometre. There are 45 extant caves, 1200 niches and more than 59,000 small and big statues. The grottoes are chiseled along the mountain, was built from 460-524.

They are famous for the rich and magnificent stone-carving statues. The biggest one is 17 meters high, while the smallest is only two centimetres. The statues of all kinds are vivid and lifelike. It has exerted profound impact on the arts of the later dynasties, and possessed an important position in the history of Chinese art.

Uniqueness

The Yungang Grottoes, the Dunhuang Grottoes in Gansu Province and the Longmen Grottoes in Henan Province are called the three most famous grottoes in China, compare with other grottoes mentioned above, the Yungang Grottoes has its own Uniqueness.

  • TheYungang Grottoes is the first royal Grottoes group in Chinese history after the capital Datong of the Northern Wei Dynasty was established. This period is the most prosperous period of the Northern Wei Dynasty, so it had sufficient human, material and financial resources. The royals spent 64 years to carve grottoes with 100000 craftsmen, that is why it so magnificent.
  • TheYungang Grottoes are all of stone carvings, without murals and clay sculptures (except some restore work in later period).
  • The Yungang Grottoes is the only one which was carved almost within one dynasty–the Northern Wei Dynasty,because the founder of that dynasty was totally sinicized, only the Yungang Grottoes recorded the past prosperity of that nationality. So what we see in Yungang Grottoes is not only Buddhist culture but all the cultures of the Northern Wei Dynasty range from history to architecture, to folk customs to beliefs.
  • Caves are very deep and broad inside. Monks can chant Buddhist scriptures and meditating inside, you will feel astonished after you enter those caves with the complicated contents inside.
  • All the caves in The Yungang Grottoes are not the same pattern. Each cave has a different style and theme, so each cave brings us different expectations.

Major Caves
The Yungang Grottoes include a variety of vivid religious figures. Moreover, there are a lot of different shaped wooden constructions, sculptures of the Buddhist story, and carvings of ancient musical instruments. The main caves are Caves No.5 & No.6, Caves No.9 – No.13 and Caves No.16 – No.20.

Caves No.5 & No.6

Cave No.5 and No.6 were interlinked together, forming a double cave. The largest Buddha statue located at the center of Cave No.5, which is 17 meters high. When carving a statue as big as this, it is very difficult to follow a good proportion. The statue is evidence of the carving technique of 1,500 years ago. The sculpture of “Flying Apsaras ” was carved at either side of the Cave arch door.

A 15 meters (49.2 foots) high, 2-stored square pagoda stands at the center of Cave No.6. There are statues of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, disciples, Buddhist devotees, Buddhist stories, architectures, animals and plants, and many kinds of decorative patterns. There are also many statues of Sakyamuni in different postures, and facial expressions. With skillful works of art, Cave No.6 is the most magnificent and typical cave.

Caves No.9 – No.13

The structure of Cave No.9 and Cave No.10 is like a square, consisting of a front room and an inner room. Cave No.12 is regarded as the musical cave. Here we see Buddhist devotees and gods of music and dance. A 13-meter-high, cross-legged statue of Maitreya is in Cave No.13.

Caves No.16 – No.20

Caves No.16 to No.20 are famous as Five Caves of Tan Yao. They were the earliest caves constructed under Tan Yao’s direction. There are some similarities, such as their thick lips, big noses, slanted eyes and broad shoulders. Although it was difficult to identify precisely of each statue, the five major figures still reflected the outlines of the five emperors.

Cave No. 20 the sitting statute of Sakyamuni, 13.7 meters high, with a full and round face with a majestic smile, slim lips and a high nose, ears that extend almost to the shoulders, radiant eyes and broad shoulders. Sakyamuni statue is representative of Buddha sculptures in Yungang Grottoes.