麦积山石窟

Màijīshān Shíkū - Maiji Shan Caves - Maijishan Grottoes - Maichishan


Useful Information

Location: Maijishan Scenic Area, Maiji Qu, Tianshui Shi.
High speed train from Lanzhou West Station to Tianshui South Station, Bus 60 tourist shuttle bus.
(34.348660, 106.009915)
Open: MAY to OCT daily 8:30-17:30.
NOV to APR daily 9-17.
[2021]
Fee: MAY to OCT: Adults CNY 90, Children (<1.2m) free.
NOV to APR: Adults CNY 70, Children (<1.2m) free.
Private Tour: 1-5 Persons CNY 500, 6-10 Persons CNY 600.
1-5 Persons CNY 400, 6-10 Persons CNY 500.
[2021]
Classification: SubterraneaCave Church
Light: n/a
Dimension:  
Guided tours: self guided
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no
Bibliography:  
Address: Maijishan Grottoes, Maijishan Scenic Area, Maiji Qu, Tianshui Shi, Tel: +86-938-273-1407.
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.

History

~200 BC begin of construction.
1952–53 first explored by a team of Chinese archeologists from Beijing.

Description

麦积山石窟 (Maijishan Grottoes, Maiji Shan Caves) is said to be one of the four major Buddhist cave temples of China, beneath SubterraneaDunhuang Mogao Caves, SubterraneaYungang Grottoes, and SubterraneaLong Men Dong. As they are much less known they are a very good alternative to avoid the crowds. From the entrance and ticket office its a 30 minutes uphill walk to the caves, but there is the possibility to take an electric vehicle for a small fee. At the second gate you can enter with the ticket for a self-guided visit or pay extra for a private tour with extra grottoes open for viewing.

Maijishan is a vertical cliff face with mostly artificial grottoes which were cut into the vertical wall, creating sculptures. Maiji Mountain is 150 meters high and was named after a wheat store, because of its characteristic form. There are about 200 grottoes and 7,200 Buddhist clay sculptures between 20 cm and 15 m high, and over 1,300 m² of murals. To reach them you have to climb a steel staircase which was attached to the cliff face. Numerous caves are protected by metal gauze, but some are freely accessible. Caves #1 to #50 are located on the western cliff face, caves #51 to #191 on the eastern cliff face. On the eastern cliff are three huge Buddha statues. There are different numbers on the age of the caves, some sources say the first caves were excavated around ~400, other daten the first caves to 200 BC. Nowever, most caves are from the Northern Wei dynasty, the 4th to 6th century, which was a time of its great prosperity. It's rather easy to date the statues to the dynasty they were created, as statues from each dynasty clearly developed distinct elements.

Grotto No. 004 is called Seven-Buddha Cave or Scattering Flower Pavilion. It is the largest cave in Maijishan, 38 m wide and 13 m long and has seven rooms. Each room contains a Buddha statue and is decorated with apsara murals. The murals here are different from other caves, as they are a combination of murals and reliefs, whichgives them a strong three-dimensional effect. The cave was created during the Northern Zhou Dynasty (557-581).

Grotto No. 003 is named Thousand-Buddha Corridor and was built in the Northern Zhou Dynasty (557-581). It was extended during the Song (960 to 1279) and Ming Dynasty (1368 to 1644). The cave is 37 m long and has 6 rows of 297 Buddha statues in total, hence the name. The statues are 90 cm high and made of a stone and clay frame.

Grotto No. 004 is named Seven-Buddha Pavilion and is the highest, largest and most famous cave, 70 m above the ground. It is also called Sprinkling Flower Tower after a Buddhist tale. The Bodhisattva tested his disciples by sprinkling flowers from this cave, and if the flowers fell on a disciple he was not a sincere Buddhist.

Grotto No. 013, named Eastern Cliff Great Buddha 17 m high and 18 m wide. Created during Sui Dynasty (581-619) it was extended in Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279). This cave contains the largest clay sculptures of the site, 15 m high Amitabha Buddha in the middle, 13 m high Avalokitesvara Buddha on the left and Mahasthamaprapta Buddha on the right. Quite exceptional is the discovery of a manuscript of Golden Light Sutra written during late Tang Dynasty (618-907). It was found by the Maijishan Grottoes researcher group in 1982 in the right cheek of the Amitabha Buddha statue. It is the earliest handwritten sutra found in Maiji Mountain and well-preserved.

Grotto No. 044 is named The Eastern Mona Lisa. It contains the statues of an incarnation of Buddha, two Bodhisattvas, and one disciple. The face of Buddha is exceptional, looking slightly downwards with a kind smile. This strange smile, showing the mercy of the Buddha and the kindness and love of a mother is quite enigmatic and the reason for the name. Its even unclear if the statue is male or female, a legend says it was created to commemorate the Queen Yifu of the West Wei Dynasty (535–556). She was the first beautiful queen in dynastic Chinese history. For this reason she was forced to become a nun in Maiji Mountain and was finally executed because the new queen could not stand that there were two queens in the country.

Grotto No. 121 is named Whispering Bodhisattva and Disciple after a group of statues in the cave, leaning towards each other's shoulders and smiling, seeming like they are whispering quietly. This quite exceptional as Bodhisattva statues normally have a solemn expression. The cave was excavated during the Northern Wei Dynasty (386-534) and extended in the Song Dynasty (960-1279).

Grotto No. 127 is the most complete cave with the most murals of Buddhist stories and paintings.

Grotto No. 133 is named Ten Thousand Buddhas Cave because it has more Buddha statues than any other cave on site. This makes the small statue of a monk stand out, simple, with a sweet smile on his mouth. Many scholars and visitors riddled why he is smiling. There was no explanation found so far in the murals, inscriptions or ancient manuscripts.

There is a curious specialty with the statues. The oldest look like gods, but with time there is a trend toward secularization, in other words the statues become more human. They become more and more like common people, more Chinese. This is obviously a religious trend, which sees Buddha as an extraordinary man and not as a diety. The statues reflect this change in the beliefs.

The number of tickets sold for the site is restricted, a maximum of 6400 tickets is sold per day. Tourists can book them through the official account of Maijishan Tourism on WeChat or at the tourist center. Two groups of caves are only open on guided tours which requires an extra ticket. The ticket is rather expensive and covers the tour guide for a small group and includes an English-speaking guide. It seems such tours are often requested by foreign tourists. However, we recommend a day trip with a local tour operator who handles the transport and books the tickets.