The Maijishan Grottoes — masterpiece of cave architecture

Located in Gansu Province, China, Maijishan Grottoes is an amazing example of ancient rock cave architecture consisting of more than 7,000 Buddhist sculptures and about 1000 square meters of murals. Maijishan Grottoes means wheat stack mountain, it is 142 meters high. Maijishan is a few miles south of the Silk Road and it explains to be the attractive place for the monks and artists travelling this route, some of them settled at the hill and made their creations on the grottoes. The stairs leading up and around were originally made of wood but later replaced by metal supports – for safety reasons.

Immense Buddhas grace the almost perpendicular side of the mountain – the tallest is over 16 meters in height.

The sculptures have helped archeologists to not only track the growth and advance of Chinese sculpture but the history and expansion of Buddhism in China.

The early sculptures are very much of the Indian school with the form evolving in to its own unique and indigenous representation of Chinese Buddhism. The sculptures here differ from those in other parts of China in as much as most of them are not carved directly from the rock.

The rock here is too soft for that sort of manipulation so the figures are, instead, clay models. Some are solid clay but many are built over a wooden frame. The few sculptures created from rock have been brought in from elsewhere.

Altogether the construction and constant restoration at Maijishan cover 12 Chinese dynasties. They represent a beautiful and graceful testament to the work and faith of countless generations of monks and artisans.

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