Silk Road Sites in Xian: 1) Site of the Chang'an City of Han Dynasty (206 B.C. to A.D. 220)-Xian City (Coordinates: N 34 17 29-34 21 15, E 108 50 38-108 54 51); 2) ) Site of the Chang'an City of Tang Dynasty (618-906)-Xian City (Coordinates: N 34 17-18 30, E 108 56 30-58 30); 3) Dagoba of Kumarajiva-Xian City (Coordinates: N 34 16-34 17, E 108 44-108 45); 4) Xingjiao Temple Pagoda (Xuan Zang's Dagoba)-Xian City; 5) ) Xian Mosque (Coordinates: N34 06 34 E108 05 30); 6) Daqin Monastery Pagoda (Coordinates: N34 15 00 E108 31 00).

The Western Han Han (206 B.C. - A.D. BC–9) built their capital of Chang'an (meaning "Perpetual Peace") on southern side of the Wei River in an area that roughly corresponds with the central area of present-day Xi'an. During the Eastern Han (A.D. 25–220), Chang'an was also known as Xijing ("Western Capital") as the main capital at Luoyang was to the east.

The remains of Han-era Chang'an, including a mint, kilometers of mud-and-brick city walls punctuated with gates, several imperial palaces, and a variety of other official buildings and residences, have been unearthed under modern Xian'. Han Dynasty cash coins—known as wu zhu coinage— are quite plentiful despite being over 2,000 years old. The reason for this is that billions of them were produced at a massive Han Dynasty mint in Shanglinyuan from brick and clay molds. The ruins of Shanglinyuan are a kilometers miles from Xian. [Source: Richard Geidroyc, World Coin News, December 11, 2012 =]

Xingjiao Temple (Shaoling Yuan, Chang'an District of Xi'an) is a five-storied Buddhist relic pagoda, preserving the relics of Xuanzang, which are inside the temple, along with the pagodas of his disciples, Kuiji and Yuance. Xingjiao Temple was built in AD 669 to reinhume Xuanzang and was one of eight famed temples in Fanchuan in Tang Dynasty. Although the original Tang Dynasty stone pagoda is still standing, the temple was burnt to the ground at Tongzhi years in Qing Dynasty. It was rebuilt during the period of the Republic of China. [Source: Wikipedia]

Great Mosque of Xian is one of the of the oldest and biggest mosques in China, Built on A.D. 742, it is used today by 60,000 Xian Muslims. The mosque has been enlarged, vandalized, torn down and rebuilt many times over the centuries. During the Cultural Revolution it was reportedly used to house pigs.

Daqin Pagoda (Zhouzhi County of Xi'an) is a Buddhist pagoda located about two kilometers to the west of Louguantai temple. The pagoda has been controversially claimed as a Nestorian Christian church from the Tang Dynasty. Daqin is the ancient Chinese name for the Roman Empire or the Near East, especially Syria. Daqin Pagoda was first described in 1064, when the Chinese poet Su Shi visited it and wrote a well-known poem about it, "Daqin Temple". His younger brother Su Zhe also wrote an "echoing" poem referring to the monks at the temple. An earthquake severely damaged the pagoda in 1556 and it was finally abandoned. Due to the earthquake, many of the underground chambers of the complex are no longer reachable. The seven-storeyed octagonal brick pagoda is about 32 meters high. Each side of the first storey measures 4.3 meters.

In 2001 the pagoda was claimed by Martin Palmer, the translator of several popular books on Sinology, including Zhuangzi and I Ching, as a form of Christianity from the Tang Dynasty, in his controversial book The Jesus Sutras. According to Palmer, the church and the monastery were built in 640 by early Nestorian missionaries. Supporters of Palmer's claims have drawn attention to details which suggest that the monastery was earlier a Christian church, including a supposed depiction of Jonah at the walls of Nineveh, a nativity scene (depiction of the birth of Jesus) and Syriac graffiti. The east-facing orientation of the complex is also advanced as evidence of its Christian origin since Chinese Daoist and Buddhist temple complexes face north or south. As a potential stimulus to the district's tourist trade, Palmer's claims have been given wide publicity by the local authorities. Despite the publicity they have received, Palmer's claims are controversial, and have been dismissed by many scholars.

Daming Palace Site

Daming Palace Site (78 Xuanwu Road, northeast Xian) was the imperial palace complex of the Tang Dynasty (618-906), serving as the imperial residence of the Tang emperors for more than 220 years. The site has been rebuilt and was opened to the public in 2010. About two thirds of the park is free to get in. The other one third features cultural heritages and exhibition and requires the payment of an admission fee. Daming Palace was the grandest and most significant palace complex in Chang'an (Xian) during Tang Dynasty. It was where Tang emperors lived, dealt with state affairs and met with officials. It is not so impressive looking today. Most of the site consists of foundations and platforms with a few models.

Daming Palace (also known as Hanyuan Palace, Yuan Palace and Penglai Palace) was the main palace, where grand ceremonies were held. It was also an important international exchange center. On every New Year's Day, ambassadors from various countries came and participated in the grand ceremonies held here. The majestic palace not only reflects Tang Dynasty (618-906)'s prosperity, but also represents the highest architectural level of that time. It is said that the Forbidden City in Beijing was built after the layout of Daming Palace.

Daming Palace was built in the early 7th century not long after the Tang Dynasty came to power. The former royal residence was Taiji Palace, built by the previous Sui dynasty. Chang’an suffered from humidity, dampness and heat during the summer and location of Taiji Place was deemed too inhospitable because it was built on low-lying lands. In 634, Emperor Taizong launched the construction of the Daming Palace at Longshou Plateau as a summer palace for his retired father, Emperor Gaozu, as an act of filial piety. Emperor Gaozu grew ill and never witnessed the palace's completion before his death in 635, and construction halted. Empress Wu commissioned the court architect Yan Liben to design the palace and construction commenced once again in 662. In 663, the construction of the palace was completed under the reign of Emperor Gaozong. Emperor Gaozong had launched the extension of the palace with the construction of the Hanyuan Hall. In 663, the imperial family relocated from the Taiji Palace into the yet to be completed Daming Palace, which became the new seat of the imperial court and political center of the empire. [Source: Wikipedia]

Location: 78 Xuanwu Road; Admission: 60 yuan; Tel:+86 29 86708192 Getting There: Bus 2, 216, 262 to Tongjia Lane; Bus 16, 17, 22, 38, 46, 104, 209, 801 to Taihua Road

Components of Daming Palace Site

"Three Great Halls" — Hanyuan Hall, Xuanzheng Hall, and Zichen Hall — were respectively part of the outer, middle, and inner court, beginning from the south and ending in the north, on the central axis. The central southern entrance of Daming Palace is the Danfeng Gate. The gate consisted of five doorways. After passing through the Danfeng Gate, there is a square of 630 meters long with at the end Hanyuan Hall. [Source: Wikipedia]

Hanyuan Hall was connected to pavilions — namely the Xiangluan Pavilion in the east and the Qifeng Pavilion in the west — by corridors. The pavilions were composed of three outward-extending sections of the same shape but different size that were connected by corridors. The elevated platform of Hanyuan Hall is approximately 15 meters high, 200 meters wide, and 100 meters long. Hanyuan Hall served as the main hall for hosting foreign ambassadors during diplomatic exchanges and was where many state ceremonies were conducted.

Xuanzheng Hall (300 meters north of the Hanyuan Hall) is where state affairs were usually conducted. The office of the secretariat was located to the west of Xuanzheng Hall and the office of the chancellery was located to the east. From this area, the Tang bureaucracy — the Three Departments and Six Ministries system, the Department of State Affairs, the Chancellery, and the Secretariat — handled the central management of the Tang empire.

Zichen Hall (in the Inner Court) is approximately 95 meters north of the Xuanzheng Hall. It housed the central government offices. For officials, it was considered a great honor to be summoned to Zichen Hall. Taiye Pool, also known as the Penglai Pool, is north of Zichen Hall. The former gardens that surround the pond and island have been recreated, based on the historical record, with peony, chrysanthemum, plum, rose, bamboo, almond, peach, and persimmon gardens.

Linde Hall (the west of Taiye Poo) served as a place for banquets, performances, and religious rites. It consisted of three halls—a front, middle, and rear hall—adjacent to each other. An imperial park was located north of the palace complex. The Sanqing Hall was located in the northeast corner the Daming Palace and served as a Taoist temple for the imperial family.

Silk Road Sites in Xianyang

Silk Road Sites in the City of Xianyang: 1) Qianling Mausoleum (Qian Imperial Mausoleum), Xianyang City (Coordinates: N34 34 51 E108 12 53); 2) Zhaoling Mausoleum (Zhao Imperial Mausoleum), Xianyang City (Coordinates: N34 36 13 E108 31 18); 3)Great Buddha Temple Grottoes in Bin County, Xianyang City (Coordinates: N 35 04 24.4-35 06, E 107 59 32-108 01); Xianyang is a prefecture-level city on the Wei River a few kilometers upstream (west) of Xian. It was the capital of the Qin dynasty (221 to 206 B.C.) and is now part of the Xi'an metropolitan area. Although trade with west undoubtably took place at the time, the Qin Dynasty is largely regarded as pre-dating the Silk Road.

Great Buddha Temple in Bin County (20 kilometers northwest of Xian, 10 kilometers west of Binzhou, County, south of of Xi'an-Lanzhou Highway) is famous for its gigantic Amitabha statue and other Buddha grottos, which were included in UNESCO World Heritage Site designated in 2014. According to Travel China Guide: In 628, Tang Emperor Li Shimin asked people to build a temple to celebrate his mother's 60th birthday, so it was originally called Qingshou Temple (Celebrating Birthday Temple).

“The grottoes were built during the Northern Dynasties (386-581) and some Buddhist statues were carved at that time as well. There are 130 grottoes and 1,980 statues, which are divided into the Great Buddha Grotto, Cave of a Thousand Buddhas (Qian Fo Grotto), Buddha Cave (Arhat Cave) and Zhangba Buddha Grotto. The gigantic Amitabha stands in the middle of this grotto, which is 20 meters (65.6 feet) high and whose fingers are two meters (6.56 feet) tall. On either side stand Bodhisattva Dashizhi and Kwan-yin Bodhisattva who are both 17.6 meters (57.7 feet) high. They are called the 'Three Saints in Paradise'. In addition, many niches in the wall contain about 200 Buddha and Bodhisattva statues of various different sizes.

“ The Cave of a Thousand Buddhas (Qian Fo Grotto) is situated in the east of the Great Buddha Grotto. The main statue is Maitreya with his disciples, Bodhisattvas and Heracles standing besides him. In other niches, most of the statues consist of one Buddha and two Bodhisattvas or one Buddha with two disciples and two Bodhisattvas. The Bodhisattvas complete with graceful poses and flowery clothes look like beautiful dancers. Therefore, they are considered by many visitors to be 'the Venus's of the East'. “

Zhaoling Mausoleum

Zhaoling Mausoleum (Jiuzong Mountain, 83 kilometers from Xian) is also known as Zhao Ling, Zhaoling Tomb, Zhao Mausoleum and Zhao Imperial Mausoleum. The largest of the 18 Tang Dynasty mausoleums and the largest royal mausoleum in the world, it is the tomb of Li Shimin, Emperor Taizong of Tang Dynasty (618-907); he was one of the most brilliant rulers in Chinese history. Spread out over an area of 226 square kilometers (87.5 square miles), Zhao Mausoleum has 190 satellite tombs that have been verified and 37 which have been excavated. The owners of the satellite tombs include famous ministers, royal families and high officials. [Source: Travel China Guide]

All five forms of satellite burials used in Chinese are found at Zhaoling Mausoleum, making it the most representative imperial mausoleum in China. According to Travel China Guide: “The configuration of Emperor Taizong's tomb as it overlooks the satellite ones symbolizes the utmost authority of the emperor. The style of Zhaoling Mausoleum as it is set against the mountain is a miniature of the renovation in Tang Dynasty. Record has it that before her death, Empress Wende told Emperor Taizong that her burial site should be placed against a mountain so that there would be no need to build a tomb. After her burial, the Emperor wrote on the tombstone that an emperor regarded the whole world as his family. Why be bound to a mausoleum? In the mausoleum against Jiuzong Mountain, there was no gold or jade or anything precious except for some earthen and wooden wares. These were placed here to pacify thieves; their existence or loss was not important. From the excavated parts of the mausoleum, we could now say that the whole project was lavish instead of thrifty. Therefore, in setting the tomb against the mountain they protected it from theft rather than the initial propose as requested by the empress.

“The construction of the Zhaoling Mausoleum lasted 107 years beginning with burial of Empress Wende in 636 until completion in 741. Rich cultural relics were left on the ground and underground. Zhaoling as a witness to the development from the beginning of Tang to its eventual prosperity. It is also a valuable treasury to help us know the culture, politics and economy of the Chinese feudal society; kept here are large quantities of calligraphy, sculpture and painting works. The epitaphs here written by reputed calligraphers can be said to be the norm of calligraphy in the beginning of Tang Dynasty. Murals here are a portraiture of the real life in Tang Dynasty with a romantic touch. Glazed pottery figures are daintily designed with bright colors.”

Qianling Tomb

Qianling Mausoleum(80 kilometers north of Xian on Liangshan Hill) was occupied by the Tang Emperor Gaozong and his Empress Wu Zetian. Encompassing two man-made mounds and a natural hill, it once contained an inner wall and an outer walls but now only the inner wall and Xian Hall remain. The inner wall is over three miles long and eight feet thick and has gates and well-preserved stone carvings and stelae near the South Gate.

There are stone carvings of cloud pillars, birds and animals and stone statues of foreign envoys and chieftains of national minorities that attended the funeral of the emperor lined up along the road that leads to the tomb. The statues of the very strong and stout horses are particularly amazing. Many of the statues had their heads loped of in the Cultural Revolution.

The Qianling Mausoleum is one of the Tang Dynasty (618–907) tombs located in Qian County, Shaanxi province. It was built in A.D. 684 (with additional construction until 706), and several royal family members were buried in this location including Emperor Gaozong (649–683) of Tang Dynasty and his wife who was China's only governing empress Wu Zetian (690–705).

The mausoleum is well-known for Tang Dynasty stone statues as well as for the mural paintings adorning the subterranean walls of the tombs. Besides the main tumulus mound and underground tombs of Gaozong and Wu Zetian, there are 17 satellite tombs of kings, princes and high ministers Admission: 46 yuan; Tel: +86-910-5510004; Getting There: You can take No. 3 tourism bus from Xian railway station.

Silk Road Sites in Shaanxi Province

Silk Road Sites in Shaanxi Province (Coordinates: N 33 06 12-35 06 12, E 108 01 10-109 01 22): 1) The Underground Chamber of Famen Temple, City of Baoji (Coordinates: N34 30 00 E107 22 35); 2) Mao Imperial Mausoleum (Maoling) of Han Dynasty (206 B.C. to A.D. 220) and Tomb of Huo Qubing, Xingping City (Coordinates: N34 19 22 E108 34 08); 3)Tomb of Zhang Qian, Hanzhong City (Coordinates: N 33 06-33 09, E 107 17, E 107 19);

Famen Temple (in Famen, 15 kilometers north of Fufeng County, Baoji city 120 kilometers northwest of Xian) was built to house a finger bone relic that reportedly belongs to Buddha. The finger relic is said to have been carried to China from northern India by monks 200 years after Buddha's death. In 1981, a 12-story brick pagoda in the temple collapsed, revealing the largest underground Buddhist vault ever found in China. Many precious relics were discovered, including 2400 pieces of gold, silverware, jewelry and 8th century textile products. The vault apparently lay in obscurity for1,000 years and escaped the ravages of the Cultural Revolution. It was discovered by archeologist cleaning the temple runs in 1987.

Famen Temple is said to be the only temple that preserves the finger bones of the Buddha. First constructed in the Eastern Han Dynasty (206 B.C. to A.D. 220), it was originally known as the Ashoka Temple, and was renamed Famen Temple in early Tang Dynasty (618-906). The gold and silver wares discovered from the underground palace are exquisite treasures. The gilded Buddhist cane has 12 rings on its four sides. The consummate skills of weaving brocade in gold threads of the Tang Dynasty (618-906) is on display here. The thinnest gold threads for weaving

Maoling Tomb (Maoling Village of Nanwei Town, 40 kilometers west of Xian) contains the grave of the famous Han Emperor Wudi (156-87 B.C.). The largest tomb from the Western Han Dynasty (206 B.C. to A.D. 9), it took 57 years to build and embraces a 50-meter-high and 240-meter-wide pyramid-shaped mound. The nearby Maoling Museum has a fine collection of large stone horses and funerary objects found around the tomb. A survey has shown the tomb was sealed with rammed earth. The rectangular mound is surrounded by ground with a perimeter of more than a mile. Admission: 28 yuan; Tel: +86-0910-8456140, +86-0910-8418040 Getting There: You can take a tourist bus from Xian Yuxiangmen bus station or by train from Xian railway station.

Tomb of Zhang Qian (Raojiaying Village, Chenggu County of Hanzhong, 30 kilometers of Hanzhong, 132 miles of Xi'an) is the burial place of Zhang Qian, a famous Western Han Dynasty (202 B.C. - A.D. ) diplomat, explorer and arguably the pioneer of the Silk Road. The tomb and the Memorial Hall of Zhang Qian contain relics and materials related to Zhang and his travels. According to Travel China Guide: “Entering the main gate, there is a corridor about 39 feet (12 meters) wide, with two cultural galleries decorated with beautiful pictures of Chenggu’s local cultural customs on both sides of it. At the other end of the corridor stands a Han styled gate with an arch over the gateway. On the north of the gateway there is a main hall, which is the axis of the Memorial Hall. There are two paintings inside depicting Zhang’s journey to the Western Regions, roughly including today’s Gansu and Xinjiang in western China, and Central and West Asia. Right by the main hall, there are two wing halls which are used as exhibition rooms. The east wing hall exhibits the life stories of Zhang Qian (164-114BC). Being an envoy of the Western Han, Zhang traveled twice to the remote Western Regions.

Silk Road Sites in Henan Province

Silk Road Sites in Henan Province: (Coordinates: N 34 37 59-34 45 0, E 112 26 45-113 2 12 1): Luoyang city of Han and Wei Dynasties, Luoyang City (Coordinates: N 34 43 11-34 44 28, E 112 34 31-112 40 46); 2) Luoyang City of the Sui and Tang Dynasties, Luoyang City (Coordinates: N 34 38 50-34 40 39, E 112 26 45-112 30 20); 3) City Luoyang:Gongyi Stone Cave Temple (Coordinates: N34 48 48 E113 01 25); 4) White Horse Temple (Coordinates: N34 43 27 E112 35 58); 5) Han'gu Pass and Xiaohan Ancient Path in Han Dynasty (206 B.C. to A.D. 220)

Gongyi Grottoes Temple (northeast of Gongyi City, 50 kilometers east of Luoyang) were built by the royal family of Northern Wei Dynasty (386-534). Emperor Xiaowen established a monastery here and reportedly chisel some of the grottoes and Buddha images himself. Later in the Wei, Tang and Song dynasties, some small reliefs were carved here. The Gongyi Cave Temple was built after the Longmen Grottoes in Luoyang.

Luoyang Ancient Tomb Museum (on top of Mangshan Hill to the north of Luoyang City) contains displays of ancient relics found in the area and 25 ancient tombs that have been painstakingly dismantled and rebuilt in the museum. The ancient tombs come from different dynasties, from the Western Han Dynasty to the Northern Song Dynasty.. The floor area is 8,200 square meters. It is the only ancient tomb museum in China.

At Luoyang Ancient Tomb Museum the Luoyang Museum, the tombs have been rebuilt in dark underground corridors in an efforts to recreate their original environment. This may sound nice but has been a disaster from a conservation point of view. Moisture and humidity that has collected in the tombs has caused the frescoes of fierce tomb guardians, copulating dragons and mythical animals to peel and crack and decay. Many of the tombs are now closed. Humidity-free enclosures are being built.

Many objects were unearthed in the Burial Ground for Carriages, a series of ancient tombs, where noblemen were buried with their horses and carriages. One of excavated tombs revealed one nobleman, 10 horses, 5 carriages, offerings, horse ornaments and weapons. The Ancient Tomb Museum also contains dioramas depicting "primitive slave societies" that existed in the area 2000 years ago.


Luoyang (400 kilometers east of Xian, 160 kilometers west of Zhengzhou) is an industrial city with about 2 million people. Located along the southern banks of the middle reaches of the Yellow River, it was one of the seven ancient capitals of China, serving 13 different dynasties — among them the Xia, the Shang, the Eastern Zhou, the Eastern Han, the Cao Wei, the Western Jin, the Northern Wei, the Sui and the Tang — and remaining a seat of power until, 1592. It is considered an encapsulation of ancient Chinese history.

Guanlin Temple (Guanlin Town in Longmen District, Luoyang) is one of the three major temples to Guan Yu, a military general serving under the warlord Liu Bei during the late Eastern Han dynasty (A.D. 25–220). An ancient classical architectural complex integrating a graveyard, temple and forest in China, the temple is said to be the burial place of Guan Yu’s head. buried here. Qianqiujian Tower stands in the square. The two stone by the front gate were carved in the Ming Dynasty, symbolizing power and inviolable dignity. The gate with 81 golden nails indicating the high position of the temple and the status of General Guan Yu. The iron lions on both sides of the Rite Gate, weigh over 1,500 kilograms and were cast 400years ago. A horizontal board inscribed with four Chinese characters saying “Well Known All over the Country” written by Empress Dowager Cixi is hung above the Rite Gate. Between Rite Gate with the Praying Hall is paved path flanked by of 104 stone lions — each one with a different face and posture next — on the top of the columns. They were made by the most skilled atone carvers in the Central Plain during the reign of the Qianlong Emperor (1736-1795). The Guanlin International Pilgrimage Ceremony is held every year in the temple.

Luoyang and China First and Only Empress

Luoyang is famous for its association with China's first and only empress, Wu Zetian (624-705) in the Tang Dynasty (618-907). The Shanghai Daily reported: “For many years Luoyang and Empress Wu were virtually synonymous, though many other important figures lived in the ancient city— the capital of 15 dynasties. Some count 13 dynasties, some even say 31, depending on complicated definitions of Chinese dynasties. I had heard many stories about the extraordinary and beautiful woman who rose to power and ruled from 690 to 705 AD. [Source: Shanghai Daily, June 22, 2009]

“On a short, two-day trip, I traced some of her history. She was cultured, conniving, ruthless and ambitious in her drive to gain the throne. She also helped advance women, flying in the face of Confucian thought about the utterly subservient role of females. The sage is believed to have said that a woman ruler would be "as strange as a hen crowing at daybreak."

Wu lived in the prosperous Tang Dynasty and though the period was quite open, it was still a time when women were not even allowed to attend family ceremonies or visit temples. Wu, born into a noble and cultured family, was at first a concubine of Emperor Taizong, founder of the Tang Dynasty, in his later years. Of course, a dead emperor's concubines were forbidden to marry. So Wu was sent to a nun's temple, like all the emperor's childless concubines.

However, Taizong's son, Gaozong, welcomed her back to the royal family as his concubine, and later wife. Historians recorded how the whole government and country were opposed to Gaozong's decision to make Wu his queen. But she triumphed over all criticism, arranged her own coronation and founded her own short-lived Zhou Dynasty (690-705) after Gaozong died. She already has been the power behind the throne.

The Zhou Dynasty interrupted the Tang Dynasty. Its capital was Luoyang, while the Tang capital was today's Xian in Shaanxi Province. Some historians consider the Zhou Dynasty a branch of the Tang, while others consider it distinct. In any case, Luoyang, one of the earliest ancient capitals, is sometimes considered one of the world's four most historic cities, together with Mecca (Saudi Arabia), Jerusalem (Israel) and Athens (Greece).

Luoyang is also known as the "City of Flowers" and is famous for its extraordinary peonies, notably in the Peony Park, and for the world-famous Longmen Grottoes. Both are linked in the legend to Empress Wu....Longmen Grottoes first caught my attention when I was a child and heard a fantastic tale about the empress, then powerful scheming consort. This one is about how supremely confident Empress Wu left her deified image in Longmen Grottoes. The empress was said to be devout Buddhist although modern historians and novelists consider her piety a political tool to rule the public. While she was still imperial consort, she ordered the creation of many caves in the grottoes, including the Fengxian Temple Cave and the enormous statue of Vairocana Buddha — not deep within but towering in a shallow niche on the mountain side.

It is the single largest statue among more than 100,000 in the grottoes. It stands more than 17 meters high and each ear is 1.9 meters long. The statue is acknowledged as the most artistic and compelling and is said to be the likeness of Empress Wu herself. It is commanding, maternal and mysterious, exuding wisdom; the face almost bears a smile. The tale that Wu ordered craftsmen to carve her image cannot be confirmed, but the strong motherly visage bears some resemblance to paintings of the empress in her later years. She abdicated in 705 AD and died the same year at the age of 80. As consort, Wu attended the opening ceremony of the cave with hundreds of officials.

White Horse Temple

White Horse Temple (12 kilometers from Luoyang) was built in A.D. 68 and is regarded as the oldest Buddhist temple in China. The two Indian monks who brought the Buddhist scriptures to this site traveled by horse, thus the name. Among the features in the temple are two white horses flanking the west gate; and a massive iron bell in one the hall that produces sounds that can be heard from five kilometers away on clear nights.

White Horse Temple was the first Buddhist monastery ever built in China and is still inhabited by monks. During the Eastern Han Dynasty (A.D. 25-220), the emperor dispatched monks to India to obtain Buddhist scriptures; these were brought back to China on a white horse, in memory of which a monastery was built near Luoyang.

White Horse Temple is also known as Baima Temple or Baimasi. Since its establishment, Baima Temple has experienced vast changes throughout the centuries, and was rebuilt several times. Now, the temple covers 40,000 square meters, and mainly consists of Tianwang Hall, Great Buddha Hall, Daxiong Hall, Jieyin Hall, Qingliang Terrace and Pilu Pavilion; Admission: 50 yuan (US$7.85)

Longtan Valley (in northern Xin'an County, about 30 kilometers northwest of Luoyang) has been dubbed one the most beautiful valleys in China. Stretching for 12 kilometers, the U-shaped valley features a stripe of purplish red quartz sandstone carved and smoothed by flowing water. The area boasts mountains, waterfalls and creeks. Admission: 70 yuan (US$10.99]

Longmen Caves

Longmen Caves (12 kilometers south of Luoyang) stretch along the 32-meter- high cliffsides on the Yi River. Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000 and considered one of the three great treasure houses of grotto art in China, the Buddhist caves features more than 2,345 caves and grotto niches, 43 pagodas, 3,600 tablets and over 100,000 statues built over a 400 year period between A.D. 493 and 960 during the Northern Wei, Sui Tang and Song Dynasties. The tallest Buddha is 17.4 meters (57 feet) tall and the smallest is only two centimeters. The best are comparable to the finest sculptures in the world. Others look like something a schoolchild could make.

Longmen Caves are located south of Luoyang on the Yi River, at a spot where high cliffs on either side form a pass. The site was first known as the "Gate of Yi River", and later became known as Longmen, or the “Dragon Gate.” Craftsmen began work on Buddhist grottoes in 494 when an emperor of the Northern Wei moved the capital from what is now known as Datong (Shanxi Province) to Luoyang. The artistry is therefore an extension from Datong. The work at Longmen proceeded through seven dynasties in more than 1,300 caves, These caves and the stone sculptures they contain rank with the caves Yungang Grottoes in Shanxi and Mogao Caves in Dunhuang, Gansu as the great remaining masterpieces of Buddhist culture in China. There are some conservation issues. Many of the caves are filled with dripping water tainted by acid rain from produced by the nearby industrial city of Luoyang. The high volume of tourists contributes to wear and tear on the site.

According to UNESCO: “The Longmen Grottoes, located on both sides of the Yi River to the south of the ancient capital of Luoyang, Henan province, comprise more than 2,300 caves and niches carved into the steep limestone cliffs over a 1 kilometers long stretch. These contain almost 110,000 Buddhist stone statues, more than 60 stupas and 2,800 inscriptions carved on steles. Luoyang was the capital during the late Northern Wei Dynasty and early Tang Dynasty, and the most intensive period of carving dates from the end of the 5th century to the mid-8th century. [Source: UNESCO]

“The grottoes and niches of Longmen contain the largest and most impressive collection of Chinese art of the late Northern Wei and Tang Dynasties (316-907). These works, entirely devoted to the Buddhist religion, represent the high point of Chinese stone carving.” the site is special because: 1) The sculptures of the Longmen Grottoes are an outstanding manifestation of human artistic creativity. 2) The Longmen Grottoes illustrate the perfection of a long-established art form which was to play a highly significant role in the cultural evolution in this region of Asia. 3) The high cultural level and sophisticated society of Tang Dynasty China are encapsulated in the exceptional stone carvings of the Longmen Grottoes. Location: Longmen Town, Luolong District. Admission: 120 yuan (US$18.84)

Caves and Sights in Longmen Caves

Longmen Caves park includes 1,352 caves, 785 niches, and more than 97,000 statues of the Buddha, Bodhisattva and Arhats. Binyang Cave is the main cave in the group. Nearby is Thousand Buddha Cave. Fengxiansi Cave contains the largest group of images as well as some of the most expressive and expertly carved ones. Here, a 50-foot-tall Buddha stands alongside a Heavenly King crushing a demon and a 30-foot Lishi guardian with rippling muscles and fierce expressions — considered by some scholars to be finest sculptures in China.

Construction of the Longmen Guottoes started in the Northern Wei Dynasty (386-534), continued in the Sui (581-618) and Tang (618-907) dynasties and ended in the Northern Song Dynasty (907-1127), lasting more than 400 years. According to statistics, there are over 2,340 niches in the eastern and western hills, over 70 Buddhist pagodas and ober 100,000 statues in total. Of them, the statue of Variocana is the largest, 17.14 meters in height; and the smallest one is only 2 centimeters high.

According to UNESCO: The earliest caves to be carved in the late 5th and early 6th centuries in the West Hill cliffs include Guyangdong and the Three Binyang Caves, all containing large Buddha figures. Yaofangdong Cave contains 140 inscription recording treatments for various diseases and illnesses. Work on the sculpture in this cave continued over a 150 year period, illustrating changes in artistic style. The sculptural styles discovered in the Buddhist caves of the Tang Dynasty in the 7th and 8th centuries, particularly the giant sculptures in the Fengxiansi Cave are the most fully representative examples of the Royal Cave Temples’ art, which has been imitated by artists from various regions. The two sculptural art styles, the earlier “Central China Style” and the later “Great Tang Style” had great influence within the country and throughout the world, and have made important contributions to the development of the sculptural arts in other Asian countries. [Source: UNESCO]

Longmen Grottoes has more than 2,860 incribed steles, more than any other group of grottoes in China. Most of the statues in the Longmen Guottoes were created in the Northern Wei and Tang dynasties, and those carved in the nearly half century from the day when Wu Zetian became empress to the year when the Tang Dynasty was replaced by the Zhou are the most outstanding. During the period, a large number of niches were carved in the Longmen Grottoes, such as the Large Vairocana Niche (also called Fengxian Temple) carved in 675, the second year of the Shangyuan reign of the Tang Dynasty; Huijian Cave constructed in 673, the fourth year of the Xianheng reign of the Tang Dynasty, which mainly holds a statue of Maitreya; and the 100,000-Buddha Cave, finished in 680, the fist year of the Yonglong reign of the Tang Dynasty. They show the artisans’ sonsummate skills. The Vairocana Niche boasts the largest and best group of rock carvings in the Longmen Grottoes. It ho uses a total of 11 Buddhist statues, showing a great variety of shapes, postures and facial expressions that none resembles another. They are games of the ancient stone carving art.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, Nolls China Web site; CNTO; Perrochon photo site;; University of Washington; Ohio State University; UNESCO; Wikipedia; Julie Chao photo site

Text Sources: CNTO (China National Tourist Organization),, UNESCO, reports submitted to UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, China Daily, Xinhua, Global Times, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Updated in July 2020

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