The Tiantishan Caves (Chinese :天梯山石窟; pinyin :Tiāntīshān shíkū) are a series of rock cut Buddhist cave temples in the Liangzhou District of Wuwei, Gansu, northwest China. Excavated from the eastern cliffs of the Huangyang River (黃羊河) in the Qilian Mountains from the time of the Northern Liang, carving, decoration and subsequent modification of the caves continued through the Northern Wei and Tang to the Qing dynasty. The complex is identified with the Liangzhou Caves opened during the time of Juqu Mengxun "one hundred li to the south of Liangzhou", as recorded in the Spring and Autumn Annals of the Sixteen Kingdoms and Fayuan Zhulin . The name Tiantishan consists of three Chinese characters (天 梯 山) that literally translate as "Ladder to Heaven Mountain".
The Tang monk Daoxuan in his Ji shenzhou sanbao gantong lu ascribes the opening of Tiantishan to the Xiongnu king of Northern Liang Juqu Mengxun's devotion to "meritorious deeds" alongside his desire to avoid the impermanence of the city by fashioning caves from the mountains.Contrary to the account in the Wei Shu of monks and Buddhist teachers relocating to the east after the conquest of the Northern Liang by the Northern Wei and subsequent persecution, structural, iconographic, and stylistic analysis shows that activity at the site continued. A total of nineteen caves in three tiers have been identified:
|Cave 1||Northern Liang||Northern Wei, Tang (beginning, early, mid, and late), Western Xia, Yuan, Ming, Qing||central pillar|
|Cave 2||beginning of the Tang||early Tang, Western Xia, Ming||square|
|Cave 3||beginning of the Tang||Western Xia, Ming||square|
|Cave 4||Northern Liang||Northern Wei, Tang (early and mid), Western Xia, Yuan, Ming, Qing||central pillar|
|Cave 6||uncertain||Tang, Ming, Qing||square|
|Cave 7||Northern Wei||Northern Zhou, Western Xia, Yuan, Ming||square|
|Cave 8||Northern Wei||Northern Zhou, Sui, Tang (early and mid), Song, Ming||square|
|Cave 13||Tang||Western Xia, Yuan, Ming, Qing|
|Cave 14||Tang||Western Xia, Yuan, Ming|
|Cave 15||Northern Liang to Northern Wei||Western Xia, Yuan, Ming|
|Cave 16||Northern Wei||Western Xia, Yuan|
|Cave 17||Northern Liang to Northern Wei||Sui, Tang (mid), Western Xia, Yuan, Ming|
|Cave 18||Northern Liang||Northern Wei, Tang (late), Western Xia, Yuan, Ming, Qing||central pillar|
Tiantishan disappeared from the historical record after the Tang dynasty. 50 square metres (540 sq ft) of the paintings were detached, although the colours have since "faded after 40 years of natural weathering", and other than for the largest, most of the sculptures were taken down and removed to the Museum. In 2001, in recognition of their significance as one of the earliest Buddhist grotto sites in the country, the Tiantishan Caves were designated a Major Historical and Cultural Site Protected at the National Level by SACH.While decoration and modification of the caves continued into the Qing dynasty, five suffered from collapse over the centuries, exacerbated by an earthquake in 1927. Despite initial survey in the early 1950s demonstrating the importance of the site, in April 1959 the Gansu provincial government approved the construction of a reservoir that would flood two of the three tiers of caves when commissioned in May the following year. In the interval, a research team from the Dunhuang Academy and Gansu Provincial Museum documented the site and excavated the collapsed caves, although all the written records and colour photographs and most of the black-and-white photographs have since been lost, along with most of the copies of the wall paintings. Some
Dunhuang is a county-level city in Northwestern Gansu Province, Western China. According to the 2010 Chinese census, the city has a population of 186,027, though 2019 estimates put the city's population at about 191,800. Dunhuang was a major stop on the ancient Silk Road and is best known for the nearby Mogao Caves. In Uyghur, Dunhuang is commonly referred to as Dukhan.
The Mogao Caves, also known as the Thousand Buddha Grottoes or Caves of the Thousand Buddhas, form a system of 500 temples 25 km (16 mi) southeast of the center of Dunhuang, an oasis located at a religious and cultural crossroads on the Silk Road, in Gansu province, China. The caves may also be known as the Dunhuang Caves; however, this term is also used as a collective term to include other Buddhist cave sites in and around the Dunhuang area, such as the Western Thousand Buddha Caves, Eastern Thousand Buddha Caves, Yulin Caves, and Five Temple Caves. The caves contain some of the finest examples of Buddhist art spanning a period of 1,000 years. The first caves were dug out in AD 366 as places of Buddhist meditation and worship. The Mogao Caves are the best known of the Chinese Buddhist grottoes and, along with Longmen Grottoes and Yungang Grottoes, are one of the three famous ancient Buddhist sculptural sites of China.
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Wuwei is a prefecture-level city in northwest central Gansu province. In the north it borders Inner Mongolia, in the southwest, Qinghai. Its central location between three western capitals, Lanzhou, Xining, and Yinchuan makes it an important business and transportation hub for the area. Because of its position along the Hexi Corridor, historically the only route from central China to western China and the rest of Central Asia, many major railroads and national highways pass through Wuwei.
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Juqu Mengxun was a king of the Xiongnu-led Chinese Northern Liang dynasty, and the first from the Juqu clan. His cousin Juqu Nancheng (沮渠男成) and he initially supported Duan Ye as prince of Northern Liang in 397 after rebelling against Later Liang, but in 401, Juqu Mengxun tricked Duan Ye into wrongly executing Juqu Nancheng, and then used that as an excuse to attack and kill Duan Ye, taking over the throne himself. While he maintained his own state, he also nominally served as a vassal of the Later Qin, Jin, and Northern Wei dynasties. He was considered a capable ruler when young, but in old age was considered cruel and arbitrary.
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The Western Thousand Buddha Caves is a Buddhist cave temple site in Dunhuang, Gansu Province, China. The site is located approximately 35 km southwest of the urban centre and about the same distance from the Yangguan Pass; the area served as a staging post for travellers on the Silk Road. It is the western counterpart of the Mogao Caves, also known as the "Caves of the Thousand Buddhas" after the founding monk Yuezun's vision in 366 of "golden radiance in the form of a thousand Buddhas". The caves were excavated from the cliff that runs along the north bank of the Dang River. A number have been lost to floods and collapse; some forty are still extant. Twenty-two decorated caves house 34 polychrome statues and 800 m2 of wall paintings, dating from the Northern Wei to the late-Yuan and early-Ming Dynasties. The site was included within the 1961 designation of the Mogao Caves as a Major National Historical and Cultural Site.
The Tianlongshan Grottoes are caves located in Taiyuan, Shanxi Province, China, that are notable for the Buddhist temples located within them. The temple complex spans two mountains: there are eight grottoes on the eastern mountain and 13 on the western mountain. The complex was constructed over a number of centuries, from the northern Qi dynasty until the Tang dynasty, and contains Buddhist art of high historic importance. The majority of the caves date to the Tang dynasty. The caves have been designated by the government as a Major Historical and Cultural Site Protected at the National Level.
The Five Temple Caves is a series of rock cut Buddhist caves in Subei Mongol Autonomous County, Gansu, northwest China. The complex once numbered twenty-two caves but over the centuries the number was reduced to five, of which four remain today, in a gorge on the left bank of the Danghe River. On the basis of their structure and iconography, one of the caves is dated to the Northern Wei, the other three to the Five Dynasties and Song. The complex lies some 80 kilometres (50 mi) to the south of the Mogao Caves, and together with these, the Western Thousand Buddha Caves, Eastern Thousand Buddha Caves, and Yulin Caves, is one of the five grotto sites in the vicinity of Dunhuang managed by the Dunhuang Academy. In 2013, in recognition of their significance to China, the Five Temple Caves were designated by SACH a Major Historical and Cultural Site Protected at the National Level.
The Eastern Thousand Buddha Caves is a series of rock cut Buddhist caves in Guazhou County, Gansu, northwest China. Of the twenty-three caves excavated from the conglomerate rock, eight have murals and sculptures dating from the Western Xia and Yuan dynasty; many of the statues were reworked during the Qing dynasty. The caves extend in two tiers along the cliffs that flank both sides of a now dry river gorge, fourteen on the west bank and nine on the east. Together with the Mogao Caves, Western Thousand Buddha Caves, Yulin Caves, and Five Temple Caves, the Eastern Thousand Buddha Caves is one of the five grotto sites in the vicinity of Dunhuang managed by the Dunhuang Academy.
The Baoquansi Caves is a Buddhist site located on the western bank of Pingdingchuan, Taibai Township, Heshui County, Gansu in Northwest China. Built during the Northern Wei Dynasty (386AD–534AD) and excavated on an 8-meter tall cliff, Baoquansi consists of 25 horseshoe-shaped niches and 153 stone statues. Most of the niches have been well preserved, however some parts have been damaged by erosion and looting. The Baoquansi Caves is a valuable site to study the spread of Buddhism since it is located on one of the ancient northern Silk Road paths.
The Lianhua Temple-Cave, also known as the LianhuasiGrottoes is located 15 kilometers from Taibai Township in Heshui County. It is the historical and cultural site protected at the providential level by Gansu government.