Longyou Caves

龙游石窟 - Xiaonanhai Stone Chambers - 小南海石室


Useful Information

Location: At Fenghuang Hill, near the village of Shiyan Beicun on the Qu River in Longyou County, Quzhou prefecture.
Open: All year daily 8:30-16:30.
Avoid summer holidays and Golden Week in October (crowded).
[2020]
Fee: Adults CNY 65. [2020]
Classification: SubterraneaEnigmatic Cavern
Light: electric
Dimension: Ar=1,000m² per cave, Vol=1,000,000m³ for 24 caves, VR=30m.
Guided tours:
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: not wheelchair accessible (staircase)
Bibliography: L. H. Li, Zhifa Yang, Zhong Qi Yue, L. Q. Zhang (2009): Engineering geological characteristics, failure modes and protective measures of Longyou rock caverns of 2000 years old, Tunnelling and Underground Space Technology. 24 (2): 190–207. doi:10.1016/j.tust.2008.08.003. ISSN 0886-7798.
Zhong Qi Yue, Shaopeng Fan, Zhifa Yang, Lihui Li, Luqing Zhang, Zhongjian Zhang (2010): A hypothesis for crack free interior surfaces of Longyou caverns caved in argillaceous siltstone 2000 years ago, Frontiers of Structural and Civil Engineering 4, 165–177 (2010). doi
Zhifa Yang, Zhong Qi Yue, Lihui Li (2011): Design, construction and mechanical behavior of relics of complete large Longyou rock caverns carved in argillaceous siltstone ground Journal of Rock Mechanics and Geotechnical Engineering, Volume 3, Issue 2, 25 June 2011, Pages 131-152 doi
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History

1992 first five chambers discovered by local farmers pumping water from a pond.

Description

The 龙游石窟 (Longyou Caves) are located in the town Shiyan Beicun in the northern outskirts of Longyou city. Quite astonishing is the fact that they are located inside Phoenix hill, which is only 69m asl, and located at the shores of Qujiang river. This hill is only 30m higher than the river and its surroundings are flooded by the river. After extraordinary floods in the 1950s the inhabitants of a nearby village decided to rebuild their houses on this hill to avoid further floods. As far as they knew this hill was never used for a settlement before. The hill had various small lakes, deep pools, which were thought to be bottomless. In 1992 one of the inhabitants, named Wu Anai convinced his neighbors to make a money pool for a water pump. The four farmers drained one lake with this pump during 17 days of continuous pumping and found a well leading to a huge 30m deep chamber. To the astonishment of the locals it was an artificial structure, the walls were obviously chiseled. They continued pumping and discovered a total of five chambers.

Further research and pumping revealed 19 more caverns, so soon 24 caverns were known. They all descend around 30m underground, and all of them have a similar form, a sort of parallelepiped. The chambers have four vertical side walls, a horizontal floor and a horizontal ceiling, but most of the ceiling and floor are 45% inclined, forming a sort of roof and a ramp on the floor. The walls are chiseled in a quite unique way into horizontal stripes, and the ceiling is stabilized by pillars. Some of the vertical walls and pillars are full of reliefs showing buddha, snakes, dragons, and birds. The chambers are quite big, they have an area of more than 1,000m², and the ceiling is upto 20m high.

Research is still going on and now and then new caverns are discovered. Until today 36 chambers have been discovered, and there are probably about fifty to seventy more caves in the larger Longyou area. Only one of them is open to the public, but its the most beautiful one with the most interesting sculptures on the walls.

The caves are dated to be 2,000 years old. That's not much in China, with 4,000 years of history, but there is no mentioning of the caverns in any historic document. They were completely forgotten until 1992, and this is quite surprising because the Chinese were meticulous record keepers. Also they seem to be one of the largest underground excavations of ancient times with a volume of 1,000,000m³. And as there are so many questions how and why they were built, they are a popular site for ancient aliens pseudo scientists and .

Such huge chambers, built in the classical room and pillar technique, are actually quite common for rock quarries. But why is the entrance in the ceiling, to remove the rock it would have been much easier with horizontal access. At least there are steps leading down to the floor. Also there are no ancient ruins known, which were built with this rock. And finally the argillaceous siltstone is not really a useful stone.