The Hanging Temple
The Hanging Temple, or Xuankong Temple, was built onto a cliff-face in Mount Hengshan and has survived for more than 1,500 years. It is the only existing temple that combines teachings from the three traditional Chinese religions: Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism. The supportive foundation of the structure is hidden within the bedrock. The temple includes 40 rooms; the highest room, Sanjiao Hall, is 90 meters above ground level. There are more than 80 statues made of copper, iron, stone and clay within the temple. (Read more about The Hanging Temple)
Pingyao Ancient Town
Pingyao was the financial centre of China during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) and the first bank in Chinese history was set up there. Now it is considered the most well preserved ancient city in China, in that it illustrates perfectly what a typical big city from the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing dynasties was like. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. (Read more about Pingyao)
The Shanxi Grand Compounds
Jin Merchants (merchants from Shanxi) played a dominant role in Chinese history during the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1912) dynasties. They became incredibly wealthy and used that wealth to build grand compounds for their families. These castle-like structures were constructed based on the architectural style of northern China. Similar to the traditional Chinese Quadrangle, the courtyard is usually rectangular in shape and all of the rooms will face towards the courtyard. The whole mansion looks like a compound formed from many small quadrangles. The external walls are high and strong, which makes them perfect for defensive purposes. We will visit three compound: Qiao Family Compound–the most famous, Qu Family Compound–the most delicate, Wang Family Compound–the largest one.(Read more about the Jin Merchants and the Shanxi Grand Compounds)
The Yungang Grottoes
This group of grottoes was carved between 453 and 495 AD, during the Northern Wei Dynasty (386-534 AD). It was the first group of grottoes to be constructed under imperial patronage. The whole site is composed of 252 grottoes with more than 51,000 Buddha statues and statuettes. It is one of the “Four Grand Groups of Grottoes” in China and was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001. (Read more about the Yungang Grottoes).
The Yingxian Wooden Tower
The Yingxian Wooden Tower is the oldest wooden pagoda in China and miraculously was built without the use of a single nail or rivet. Still more impressive is the fact that, from its construction in 1056 until 1103, it survived seven major earthquakes and only needed 10 minor repairs throughout the entirety of the 20th century. Perhaps there is some luck to the saying “knock on wood”! It towers in at 67 metres (220 ft.) in height and contains a statue of Sakyamuni Buddha, earning it the alternate name of the Sakyamuni Pagoda. It is said that, on a clear day, you can see the pagoda from over 30 kilometres (19 mi) away!
Not only is Mount Hengshan considered one of China’s Five Great Mountains, but it also boasts the highest peak of them all, Tianfeng Peak, which towers in at over 2,100 metres (6,900 ft.) in altitude. To put that into perspective, it’s nearly twice the size of Ben Nevis, the tallest mountain in the UK! Yet it’s not the mountain’s size that has earned it such prestige, but its religious value. According to the Chinese religion of Taoism, Hengshan is considered a sacred mountain and has been a site of pilgrimage since the Zhou Dynasty (c. 1045-256 BC).
It’s home to the Beiyue Temple and the world-renowned Hanging Temple but, since it was cut off frequently from imperial rule when other kingdoms took over northern China, it is now the least visited and least commercialized of the Five Great Mountains. This makes it an ideal place to hike, as its isolated paths and untouched natural beauty are unparalleled among its peers.
Shuanglin Temple has been nicknamed “The Museum of Coloured Sculptures” and, when you set foot inside and marvel at the collection of over 2,000 painted statues that decorate its halls, you’ll soon see why! Currently, due to lack of historical documents, researchers do not know exactly when the temple was built, but a stone tablet stating it was rebuilt in 571 AD during the Northern Qi Dynasty (550-577) and two huge locust trees that were planted during the Tang Dynasty (618-907) attest to its ancient origins.
Although it is estimated that the temple is about 1,400 years old, it underwent large scale restoration throughout the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1912) dynasties and so its appearance reflects those architectural styles. After all, when you’re over 1,000 years old, you need a little extra help to keep looking good! Its name literally means “two woods” and makes reference to one of Buddha’s teachings, which states that “nirvana is between two trees”. Buddha may not have specified which two trees they were, but Shuanglin Temple’s peaceful atmosphere is sure to make you feel more enlightened.