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Maiji Mountain Grottos
 
The Grottos on Maiji Mountain lie 45 kilometers to the southeast of Tianshui City, Gansu Province.

The mountain peak conspicuously rises from the ground, just like a wheat pile, that is why the local people call it Maiji Mountain (Mai means wheat, Ji means pile up). The Grottos on Maiji Mountain are one of the four most famous grottoes in China, and has enjoyed a good reputation of the Oriental Museum of Sculptures for a long time. There are 194 extant niches, which house more than 7,200 big or small clay sculptures and stone statues, and 1,300 square meters of frescoes. Because Maiji Mountain is made up of soft sandstones and it is difficult to carve on the sandstones, clay sculptures became the method widely employed here.

The grottos were first built during the Later Qin Period (384-417), widely sculpted during the reigns of Emperor Mingyuan and Emperor Taiwu in the Northern Wei Dynasty (386-534), and got some development after the first year (477) of the Taihe reign of Emperor Xiaowen. After the death of Yi Fu, the Queen of Emperor Wendi of the Western Wei Dynasty (535-557), she was buried the niches carved on the Maiji cliff. During the reign of the Baoding and Tianhe in the Northern Zhou Dynasty (557-581), Li Yunxin, the command-in-chief of the Qin Prefecture, built the Pavilions of Seven Buddha for his deceased father. In the first year of the Renshou reign, Emperor Wendi of the Sui Dynasty (581-618) ordered to build a dagoba in Maiji Mountain. With the continuous sculpture and enlargement through the Tang, Five Dynasties, Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties, it has gradually developed into one of the most famous grotto groups in China. About in the 22nd year (734) of the Kaiyuan reign during the Tang Dynasty, the middle part of the grottoes in Maiji Mountain was destroyed in a violent earthquake. The grotto group is divided into two parts, the east and the west. Now there are 54 extant caves in the east part and 140 caves in the west part.
 
Among the caves in the east part, the most exquisite ones include the Nivara Cave, the One-Thousand Buddha Corridor and the Pavilions of Seven Buddha in the Building of Scattering Flowers. Before the Nivara Cave, there are four stubby stone poles, which are decorated with Flaming Pearls instead of arches on the top. Such kind of design method is extremely ingenious. The Nivara Cave was completed in the last years of the Northern Wei Dynasty and regarded as the gem of the grotto buildings. The One-Thousand Buddha Corridor is 32 meters long, and divided into two tiers with 258 stone statues covered with clay, each of which has its vivid posture and expression.
 
Out of the Corridor and ascending up by the stairs, people will reach the Pavilions of Seven Buddha, which is in the Building of Scattering Flowers. On the cliff 50 meters above the ground stand seven pavilions supported by eight big poles, between every two poles is a niche, and there is also a wide corridor before the gate. Yu Xin, a famous poet of that time, once wrote a poem to sing of the Niches of Seven Buddha. There are 75 statues in the cave, with well-rounded and dignified postures, affectionate and serene countenances, which are filled with rich artistic characteristics of the Sui and Tang dynasties. However, the statues of Heavenly Kings that stand aside with strong and succinct lines represent the styles and characteristics of the sculptures in the Song Dynasty.
 
On the west cliff, there is fine collection of the most valuable caves including the Wanfo Hall (the Ten-Thousand Buddha Hall), the Heaven Cave, the No.121 Cave, the No.123 Cave, the No.127 Cave, the No.165 Cave and so on. The Wanfo Hall is also called the Stele Cave. Entering the door, one will at once see a Greeting Buddha, 3.5 meters high, two eyes slightly closed, with two hands forming the posture of greeting. There are 30 extant clay sculptures inside the grotto. On the left upper of the front wall, there are more than 1,000 statues of Buddha. There also are lots of well-made sculptures of Maitreya (Laughing Buddha), Sramanera (Buddhist novice) and providers. The Heaven Cave is the highest one among those on both cliffs, inside which are all huge stone-carved statues: the middle one, 1.95 meters high, and two on both sides, 1.28 meters high and each 2 to 3 tons in weight.
 
The Grottoes on Maiji Mountain are built on the cliffs about 20 or 30 meters to 70 or 80 meters above the ground, and are in the traditional architectural forms of being square, flat-topped, with the door in the front wall, and Cliffside pavilion-style buildings beside the niches. In addition, the plank roads built along the cliffs connect the caves with each other.
 

The area itself should be proud of its statistics! After centuries of renovation, expansion, partial destruction and then restoration, the grottoes that you can see today still number an impressive 194. Within these can be found over 7,800 pieces of clay sculptures and stone carvings, and murals with an aggregate area of over one thousand square meters. The stone sculptures that can be seen within the caves are of rock that had to be imported to the mountain, since the local rock was of too soft a consistency. The clay sculptures, reflecting the rich styles of high-ranking daily life, mainly portray two distinct eras: the Northern Dynasties (386-581 AD) characterized by slim figures and the Sui and Tang Dynasties (581-907 AD) featuring plumper ones. The only problem with the grottoes are that they are all locked up and, unless you have brought a guide to open them up, you will have to make do with the limited lighting that the barred entrance affords. For those on a budget this is not such a bad option, since some of them are lit not too badly and the views away from the mountain are worthwhile in themselves. Guides, however, can be bought to open them.

The Grottoes are not the end of a comprehensive trip here. 15m above the giant clay Buddha, on the eastern slope, is the Seven Buddha Pavilion (Qifo ge), a typical Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD) construction of interesting architectural value. Recent years have also witnessed the opening of a few of the dilapidated temples around the mountain making the area good for hiking. The best place for such activity is in the Botanical Garden. This is situated in front of the mountain, reached by taking stairs to the right, down the road before the grottoes' ticket office.

Admission Fee: CNY 22
CNY 50 for entering the cave (Including the fare for a guide)

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