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China is a massive country with an underappreciated history. It was a great empire during the time of the Romans and traces its history through various dynasties back much further than that. There are monumental statues and awe-inspiring Buddhist monasteries all around the country.

As Christianity spread through Europe, Buddhism was spreading in China. The ancient Chinese Buddhist temple grottoes are a mesmerizing glimpse into a very different time and a golden age of Buddhism in China. The Yungang Grottoes were carved in the 5th and 6th centuries and constitute thousands of Buddhist statues in thousands of caves. Another similar ancient rock-cut Buddhist temple complex in China is the incredible Longmen Grottoes.

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Why The Yungang Grottoes Are Exceptional

The Yungang Grottoes... represent the outstanding achievement of Buddhist cave art in China in the 5th and 6th centuries... constitute a classical masterpiece of the first peak of Chinese Buddhist art.

UNESCO

The Yungang Grottoes are some of the best examples of ancient Chinese Buddhist rock-cut architecture. They are UNESCO world heritage listed and are located in the northern Chinese province of Shanxi.

  • Location: Near Datong in Shanxi Province
  • Date: In The 5th and 6th Centuries
  • Dynasty: Northern Wei

The Yungang Grottoes are one of the most famous ancient Buddhist sculptural sites in China (the others are Longmen and Mogao). They are among the earliest rock-cut Buddhist cave-temple complexes in China

The construction of the caves at Yungang began with a set of five cave temples at the west end of the cliff. It started during the Northern Wei dynasty in around the year 460 AD (around the time the Western Roman Empire was in the final stages of collapse). The Northern Wei established Buddhism as the state religion with the royal family being earnest adherents to Buddhism.

Related: The History Behind China's Incredible Terracotta Army And Why You Should Visit Them

The Large Scale Of The Yungang Grottoes

The scale of the Yungang Grottoes is mind-bending. The complex is made up of 53 major caves and 51,000 niches with Buddha statues. Different sources count the caves differently, UNESCO lists 252 caves and niches. There are another 1,100 minor caves. The cliff is sandstone and is around 2,600 feet long and around 30 to 60 feet high.

  • Caves: Hundreds of Carved Caves
  • Statutes: 51,000 Niches and Buddha Statues

So far over 50 caves have been excavated and over 50,000 stone Buddha states have been revealed carved into the rock face.

The caves vary massively in size. Some are just large enough to stick one's head in, while others are large enough to walk in and see the large stone statues with other smaller statues carved around them in incredible detail.

Related: Houtouwan: China's Ghost Town Reclaimed by Nature

Visiting The Yungang Grottoes

The gateway to the Yungang Grottoes is the nearby city of Datong. The Yungang Grottos (also called Yungang cave temples) are only a 30-minute drive west of the Chinese city of Datong.

Another attraction at the grotto is the Ming Dynasty-era fort that is still located on the top of the cliff of the Yungang Grottoes.

If one is planning to visit the site, plan on spending half a day there. It normally takes around half a day to explore the large park.

  • Time Needed: 4 Hours
  • Opening hours: 8:00am until 6:00pm

If one is also planning to visit the picturesque southern Chinese province of Sichuan, then visit the enormous giant Buddha statues carved into the cliff face there.

Guided Tour Of The Yungang Grottoes

There are a number of English language-guided tours offered by the Yungang Grottoes. Thechinaguide.com offers a one-day guided tour from Beijing to the historical sites around the city of Datong.

The tour visits the Hengshan Hanging Temple (an ancient Buddhist temple precariously set on the site of a cliff). The Hengshan Hanging Temple is also the only temple still around today to combine Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism.

After that, the tour heads to the Yungang Grottoes. The tour can be tailored and customized according to one's preferences.

The tour takes the bullet train from Beijing to Datong (around 2 hours long).

  • Duration: 1 Day
  • Main Attractions: Yungang Grottoes and Hengshan Hanging Temple
  • Included: English-Speaking Guide
  • Price: Inquire For A Quote

The tour includes a private English-speaking guide, an air-conditioned vehicle for transfers, entry to all attractions on the itinerary (no hidden costs), meals, and full support.