Maijishan Grottoes – Tianshui, China - Atlas Obscura

Maijishan Grottoes

Rock-cut caves and 7,000 Buddhist sculptures carved into the nearly sheer face of a sandstone mountain. 


So precarious and improbable, the Maijishan Grottoes come across as science fiction. Perhaps a dystopian world where humans are forced to tunnel into mountains and stay high above the ground to avoid predators below, boxing themselves into an ant-hill like village best explains the wonder.

Built over 1,500 years ago, the Maijishan Grottoes are a series of 194 caves carved into the nearly sheer face of a sandstone mountain. High above the frosted lands of Gansu, Maijishan’s face looks like a sponge. Black holes punctuate the rock wall and highlight the massive Buddhist statues carved into the rock.

Situated in the far North of China’s modern territory, the caves evolved throughout time, morphing with influence from new cultures and peoples. They continued to change over 12 dynasties, keeping a Buddhist thread throughout its evolution. Although this common theme exists, and the caves feature over 7,000 Buddhist statues, there is significant variation between the statues.

Many of the statues, especially those inside the caves are exquisite, and ornately decorated. These more elaborate statues were generally not created with indigenous stone, meaning the rock for these huge ornate statues was hauled up the mountain sides from somewhere else.

Strain as much as you like, but you will not find a satisfactory answer for every question the grottoes pose. Regardless, the beauty of these mysterious caves and carvings transcends beyond archeological mysteries.

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August 14, 2011

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