China Guide

Longmen Caves Guide To The Longmen Grottoes Its Artwork

Longmen Caves

As one of China’s most famous ancient sculptural sites, the Longmen Caves, or more commonly the Longmen Grottoes, provide a cultural and historical element to your journey. The caves can be found just 12km to the south of Luoyang city found scattered on the cliffs of the Xiangshan and Longmenshan mountains. With the Yi River weaving through east to west between the mountains, the caves appear along a good 1km stretch of bank.

Construction of the Longmen Grottoes began in 493 when Luoyang became Emperor Xiaowen’s new capital. Its intricate carvings took over 400 years to complete, lasting through multiple dynasties. They were commissioned by wealthy and imperial families as well as emperors throughout their construction. Unfortunately vandalism and looting has crippled the site especially with attacks made during the cultural revolution. However the majority of the artwork still remains today, clearly devoted to the Buddhist religion depicting certain Buddhist subjects.

The Grottoes encompass over 2,000 caves and niches, 42 pagodas, around 2,800 inscriptions and more than 100,000 Buddhist images. These make up China’s largest collection of Chinese art from the Wei and Tang Dynasties making for an impressive collection. Unfortunately visitors cannot get inside the caves however most of the art can be viewed from outside.

The largest grotto here is the Fengxian Temple standing at 36m by 41m, definitely one of the most impressive of the Longmen Temple carvings. Within the Fengxian Temple lies a Vairocana Buddha figure who sits upon a lotus throne. Another striking cave is the Wanfo Cave with its 15,000 small Buddha statues that adorn the southern and northern walls of the cave while the main Buddha sits again on a lotus throne.

Today the Longmen Grottoes are seen as an important World Cultural Heritage acknowledged under UN Heritage Commission.

The total experience takes about half a day as you can travel cheaply by bus from Luoyang which takes approximately 45minutes. Once you get off the bus, to find the ticket office you must first walk about a kilometer through a shopping mall then you can head up to the cave’s exterior. Wondering around the site will take you about three hours if you want to see the majority of what is on show while you can take an extra journey to see temples and other extras.

As a final note, foreigners shouldn’t have any trouble visiting as the majority of labels are translated into English.