From one-inch statutes to the 57-foot Vairocana Buddha in the Fengxian Temple (pictured above), Longmen’s 100,000 Buddhist statues provide an awe-inspiring window into Buddhist art and its development through Chinese history. Beginning in 493 AD under Emperor Xiaowen of the Northern Wei Dynasty, Luoyang, the then capital of China, became home to a massive installation of cave carvings that would grow for another 400 years. The capital had been moved to Luoyang from Datong in Shanxi Province, which is home to another famous Buddhist grotto known as the Yungang Caves.
The Longmen grottoes are so unique and so vast in scale that the site is truly a worthwhile experience for any China explorer. Even if you’ve already been to Dunhuang’s Mogao Caves and Datong’s Yungang Caves (which are China’s two other most famous Buddhist grotto sites), Longmen’s caves are still worth visiting for their own distinct style and history.
Like almost all UNESCO heritage sites in China, Longmen can be a tourist trap. Don’t go during July or August (plus it’s really hot then); don’t go during a Chinese national holiday; and try to avoid weekends.
Today, many of the statutes are missing limbs and heads, as well as their original paint job. However, the intricate carvings, attention to minute detail, skill with respect to proportion and depicting emotion, and sheer dedication to Buddhist art all still shine through loud and clear.