Longmen Caves

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A section of stone wall carvings from the Longmen Caves, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Longmen Caves are, after Dunhuang, likely the most famous set of Buddhist cave-temples in China. The thirteen hundred caves and niches at the site, stretching along both sides of a river for roughly a kilometer, were carved chiefly in the 5th to 7th centuries.

Longmen is located outside of the former Chinese capital of Luoyang, and straddles the Yi River. The 1300 caves and niches contain a total of over 100,000 Buddhist sculptures; some of the niches are quite small, only a meter or so in height, but others are several stories tall. The so-called "Ancestor Worshiping Cave" is the largest in the complex, and contains a seated sculpture of Vairocana (J: Dainichi) roughly 55 feet in height. Construction on this particular cave is known to have been completed around 675, with patronage from Empress Wu. Another important cave at the site is known as the Three Buddhas Cave, and stands out as one of the few with Maitreya (J: Miroku), the Buddha of the Future, as the central figure. This cave was begun under the patronage of Empress Wu (r. 690-705) but was never completed.


  • Valerie Hansen, The Open Empire, New York: W.W. Norton & Company (2000), 200-201.