The Maiji Mountain Grottoes is one of the four most famous grottoes in China. It has 221 existing caves with 10,000 clay sculptures made as early as 1,600 years ago.
With photos credited to Xinhua, these grottoes are very special to the chinese.
The Maijishan Grottoes, also called Maiji Mountain Grottoes or Maijishan Caves, is located in Maiji District, Tianshui City, Gansu Province, northwest China. Together with Longmen Grottoes, Yungang Grottoes and Dunhuang Grottoes, they are the “Four Greatest Grottoes in China”.
Maiji in Chinese means “piled sheaves of wheat”. That’s what Maiji Mountain looks like and why it got the name. Maijishan grottoes were firstly built in A.D. 384-417 and expanded in the following dynasties such as Northern Zhou (A.D. 557-581) and Tang (A.D. 618-907). Now there are 221 caves, 10632 clay sculptures and more than 1300 square meters of murals. It is famous for its exquisite clay sculpture art in the world and is renowned as the Oriental Sculpture Art Exhibition Hall.
Though Maijishan Grottoes is not as famous as the other three great grottoes, it is the one that is best-preserved. Because all the caves are chiseled on the steep cliff of the mountain, they are not easily accessible hence escape much destruction in the troublous history. Nowadays, people can get to admire the Buddha sculptures and murals on a narrow path along the cliff, which is still a challenge to some people. But the scene you see will be totally worth the climb.
What to See in Maijishan Grottoes
Meanwhile, here are what you should expect at the mountain according to ChainaDiscovery.
The clay sculpture of Maijishan Grottoes is famous at home and abroad. The thousands of sculptures here can be as high as 16 meters and as small as only 10 centimeters, reflecting the sculpture characteristics in various times and the development of Chinese clay sculpture art over the past thousand years.
Maijishan Grottoes today can be roughly divided into western cliff and eastern cliff. The diverse Buddhist statues, valuable murals, and architectures built on the cliff are all worth a visit. In order to protect those cultural relics, some caves are selected as special caves and need to buy extra ticket. The following caves are just a part of Maijishan Grottoes.
Grotto No. 004: Seven-Buddha Cave or Scattering Flower Pavilion
It is located above the three great Buddha on the Eastern Cliff, about 70 meters from the ground. It is the largest, highest, and most magnificent cave in Maijishan Grottoes with 31.7m in width and 13m in depth. It looks like a great palace with 7 rooms, in each of which stands a Buddha and decorated with apsara murals painted in Northern Zhou Dynasty (A.D. 557-581). Different from other murals, these in Cave 4 present a combination of mural and relieve, which endows the flying apsaras a strong three-dimensional sense and it looks like they will fly out of the wall at any moment.
Grotto No. 003: Thousand-Buddha Corridor
Built in the Northern Zhou Dynasty (A.D. 557-581) and rebuilt in the dynasties of Song (A.D. 960-1279) and Ming (A.D. 1368-1644), Thousand-Buddha Corridor is 36.5m in length with 6 rows of 297 Buddha in total. All of them are stone-frame clay sculpture and about 0.9m in height. It is quite a magnificent scene when you walk along the corridor.
Grotto No. 013: Eastern Cliff Great Buddha
Grotto No. 013 is commonly known as the “Eastern Cliff Great Buddha”, 17 meters high and 18 meters wide. It was chiseled in Sui Dynasty (A.D. 581-619) and rebuilt in Southern Song Dynasty (A.D. 1127-1279). This is the largest group of clay sculptures in Maiji Mountain with 15.7m high Amitabha Buddha in the middle, 13m high Avalokitesvara Buddha on the left and also 13m high Mahasthamaprapta Buddha on the right. In 1982, Maijishan Grottoes researcher group found a manuscript of Golden Light Sutra written in late Tang Dynasty (A.D. 618-907) on the right cheek of Amitabha Buddha. This precious script is neatly written, well-preserved, and the earliest handwritten sutra found in Maiji Mountain.
Grotto No. 121: Whispering Bodhisattva and Disciple (Special Cave)
Grotto No. 121 is located at the west end of the upper layer on the Western Cliff. It was created in the Northern Wei Dynasty (A.D. 386-534) and rebuilt in the Song Dynasty (A.D. 960-1279) while the original works of Northern Wei are still well preserved. The most famous of this grotto is a group of statues of a Bodhisattva and a disciple. They lean towards each other’s shoulders and smile sweetly, seeming like they are whispering quietly. Unlike our ordinary impression of solemn Bodhisattva, they are like a pair of friendly sister and brother talking about something interesting. Based on real life, ancient craftsmen created this group of immortal works that can arouse people’s infinite imagination.
How to Get to Maijishan Grottoes
Maijishan Grottoes is in Maijishan Scenic Area. Maijishan is about 44km, 75 minutes’ drive (2h by bus) to the south of Tianshui downtown, about 1 hour’s drive (1.5h by bus) from Tianshui Railway Station, Tianshuinan Railway Station, and Tianshui Maijishan Airport.
When you get to the entrance of Maijishan, there is a distance of about 3km to the grottoes, you can walk there or take a shuttle bus (CNY 8 for one-way ticket and CNY 15 for round-way ticket).
How to Plan a Silk Road Tour with Maijishan Grottoes
“If you just want to travel Tianshui, 1-2 days will be sufficient for you to have a basic understanding of this ancient city and its highlights – Maijishan Grottoes and Fuxi Temple, a temple firstly built in A.D. 1483-1484 to worship the ancient legendary “Fuxi Emperor”, who was very knowledgeable, created the Eight Diagrams and made a great progress in Chinese civilization.
“But if you have more days, it is highly recommended to extend your trip to one or more other cities on the ancient Silk Road from Xian via Tianshui to Lanzhou, Zhangye, Jiayuguan, and Dunhuang. In this way, you will encounter the eighth wonder of the world – Terracotta Warriors, treasure of Buddhist arts – Mogao Grottoes, amazing rainbow mountain – Zhangye Danxia Landform Geographical Park and the westernmost point of Ming Dynasty Great Wall – Jiayuguan Pass at the same time.” Says China Discovery.