Yungang Grottoes is located in Yungang Town, the foot of Mountain Wuzhou, 16km from Datong. Because of its location, it is called “Yun Gang”, and the Grotto was named “Yungang Grottoes”.
Yungang Grottoes is a treasure house of art as famous as the Ajanta Grottoes of India and the mammoth Buddha sculptures at Bamyan in Afghanistan. The Yungang grottoes were carved on the face of a low ridge, stretching 1km from east to west; there are 254 caves and some 51,000 statues; amongst them, the largest one is 17m in the height, but the smallest one is only 2cm. It is one of the most extensive grottoes in China, covering approximately 18,000㎡.
The Grottoes was firstly carved 1,500 years ago, in the 1st year of Heping Era in the Northern Wei Dynasty (460 A.D.). It was recorded in the documents that during the peacetime in the Beiwei Dynasty, a famous monk named “Yunxi” took the initiative to excavate five grottoes in Wuzhou Sai in a west suburb of the capital (now it is Datong City). Those five grottoes are the existing 16th to 20th grottoes of Yungang, which are the earliest grottoes, and so called “Yunxi Five Grottoes”.
These caves include a variety of vivid religious figures, such as the Buddha, Bodhisattiva, disciples and deities. There are also many different shaped wooden constructions done in simple styles, sculptures of the Buddhist story with prominent themes and exquisite decoration, vivid figures of Northern Wei Dynasty, and a large number of carvings of ancient musical instruments, such as Konghou, horizontal bamboo flute, vertical bamboo flute (Bili), Pipa, and others.
Yungang Grottoes absorbed and incorporated the essence of foreign art in its sculptural techniques and played an important role in world art history. Its images offer valuable materials for the study of politics, economic life, culture, art, and religious belief in ancient Chinese society. It also provides illustrations that trace the communications of early Chinese-Western cultural contacts and friendly exchanges among the peoples of those times.
The art style of Yungang Grottoes both attracted the essence of overseas carving and developed the tradition of ancient China's art, taking an important position in the art history of the whole world. The grottoes of the early times are simple and grand with its distinguished Ajanta style; the grottoes of the middle times are exquisite and beautiful for its clear influence from Han Nationality; the grottoes of the later times are completely showing the characteristics of Han Nationality. It is not only the important image materials for the study to ancient China’s politics, economy, culture, art and religion, but also the example of the friendship between China and the other countries.
Yungang Grottoes is a monument of artistic achievement and of the human legacy that brings together historic value, artistic value, and scientific value. It is known throughout the world as the soul of oriental stone sculptural art for its large scale, rich content, and exquisite carving.
Yungang Grottoes was the 1st grottoes group operated by the nation after Buddhism entered China. It was the highest culture achievement of the Northern Wei Dynasty, and it had been regarded as a form of sculptural art recognized as the “Yungang model”, which gived it a unique place among cave art among the major grottoes around the world.
Yungang Grottoes, the grand symbol of the royal Tuoba family in the Northern Wei Dynasty, is a witness of China's culture history. With its exquisite sculptures, excellent visiting surroundings and good transport facilities, Yungang Grottoes has become a major attraction for tourists from all over the world.
In 1961, Yungang Grottoes was published by the State Council as one of the National Key Cultural Relics Preservation Units; In 2001, Yungang was listed as one of UNESCO's “World Cultural Heritages”, and was appraised as 4A level scenic spot; In 2006, it was appraised as “the Most Attractive Scenic Spot in China”.