Known as one of China’s three major cave clusters, the Yungang Grottoes embody the beauty of Buddhist cave art, representing the peak of Buddhist cave carving in China’s history. The caves line the northern face of Wuzhou Mountain in Datong, spanning a 1k stretch from east to west. Preserved as a UNESCO World Heritage site, the 252 caves containing more than 51,000 statues and relics were first carved in 450 at the height of the Northern Wei Dynasty (386-584).
Along the eastern end pagodas dominate the carved surface, while the western end is characterized mainly by small and medium sized shallow caves. The sculptures within the caves exemplify a fascinating blend of Indian Gandhara Buddhist art, Chinese art, and social influences pertinent at the time of their creation.
Cave No. 6 is the largest discovered at the site with a height of 20m. In the center of the cave stands a 15m column. The four sides of the towering pillar and the surrounding walls depict the story of Sakyamuni.
Within the complex maze of caves the sculptors revealed the religious concept that the emperor is Buddha. In caves 16, 17, 18, 19, and 20 statues of emperors Taizu, Taizong, Shizu, Gaozong, and Gaozo are depicted to possess a similar style, distinguished from one another by differing characteristics in their facial expression and posture. These caves are known as the Five Tan Yao Caves, named for the monk Tanyao who appointed by Emperor Xiao Wen to take over construction of the grottoes.