The Longmen Caves (or Longmen Grottoes) stretch for 1km along the west bank of the Yi River near Luoyang in Henan Province. The site includes some 1,350 caves and 40 pagodas, which are filled with thousands of Buddhist statues carved out of the hard limestone cliffs.
The carving work began in 492 AD and continued for 500 years. The Longmen Caves were designated a World Heritage Site in 2000 for their spectacular works of Chinese art, especially of the Tang Dynasty.
The carvings of the Longmen Caves were commissioned by emperors, members of the imperial family and other wealthy families, generals, and religious groups, all who hoped to earn good fortune through their donations.
The site was “founded” by the Northern Wei dynasty in 492 AD, when they moved their capital to Luoyang from Datong (where they had carved the Yungang Caves). Three sets of caves – Guyang, Bingyang and Lianhua – date from this early period. Their art was similar to that at Datong but was adapted to the harder limestone surface of the Longmen Caves.
Work continued under various patrons for 500 years and reached a second peak under the Tang, particularly under the devoted Buddhist Empress Wu Zetian.
The caves have suffered from significant vandalism and looting over the years, beginning with the anti-Buddhist movement of the 9th century. Destruction continued at the hands of souvenir-hunting Westerners in the 19th and 20th centuries, and culminated in attacks by Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution.