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Longmen Grottoes

      The Longmen Grottoes is one of the finest examples of Chinese Buddhist art. Housing tens of thousands of statues of Buddha and his disciples, they are located 12 kilometers south of present day Luoyang in Henan province, China. The images, many once painted, were carved into caves excavated from the limestone’s cliffs of the Xiangshan and Longmen mountains, running east and west.
      There are as many as 100,000 statues within the 1,400 caves, ranging from a 1 inch (25mm) to 57 feet (17 meters) in height. The area also contains nearly 2,500 steles and inscriptions, whence the name “Forest of Ancient Steles”, as well as over sixty Buddhist pagodas. Situated in a scenic natural environment, the caves were dug from a 1 kilometer stretch of cliff running along both banks of the rivers. 30% date from the Northern Wei Dynasty and 60% from the Tang, caves from other periods accounting for less than 10% of the total. Starting with the Northern Wei Dynasty in 493 AD, patrons and donors included emperors, Wu Zetian (empress Wu), members of the royal family, other rich families, generals, and religious group.
      In 2000 the sites was inscribed on the list on the UNESCO World Heritage as “an understanding manifestation of human artistic creativity”, for its perfection of an art form, and for its encapsulation of the cultural sophistication of the Tang China.
      The earliest history of the creation of Longmen Grottoes is traced to the reign of Emperor Xiaowen of North Wei dynasty when he shifted his capital to Luoyang from Datong; Luoyang’s symbolic value is borne by the fact that it served as the historic capital for 13 dynasties. The grottoes were excavated and carved with Buddhist subjects over the period from 493 AD to 1127AD, in four distinct phases. The first steps started with Northern Wei dynasty (493-534). The second step saw slow development of caves as there was interruption due to strife in the region, between 524 and 626, during the reign of the Sui dynasty (581-618) and the early part of the Tang dynasty( 618-907). The third part, when Chinese Buddhism flourished and there was a proliferation of caves and carvings from 626 to the mid 8th century. The last step, which was the fourth, was from the later part of the Tang dynastic rule extending to the Northern Song Dynasty rule, which saw a decline in the creation of grottoes. It came to an end due to internecine war between the Jin and Yuan dynasties.



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