Among the many landmarks of Zhangye City and Area, the most renowned and readily
available is its Great Buddha Temple (or Big Buddha Temple) which has a Towering
Pagoda dated over 1400 years old, as well as a giant reclining buddha statue. Find the Temple
known in Chinese as Dafo Si, at the South End of town where it has 'always' been.
Today's Buddha Statue has been renovated rebuilding it from Clay, Soil and the modern material known as plastic. Covered in gold plating it measures 34.5 meters wide and 7.5 meters high at the shoulders. The head of Buddha is gargantuan and has ears some impressive 2 meter long ears. According to local tales 8 people can sit on the ears, side by side.
The Shrine Hall that holds the reclining Buddha Statue -offcially known as the Nirvana Posture- is an ancient monument and as one of the oldest buildings in the complex of today is one of the few wooden structures surviving of its era. Behind the Main Hall is an impressive white Stupa reminding of Tibetan influences.
Another feature of the Temple is the two-storey building called Scripture Pavilion, which was reconstructed at the end of Qing Dynasty (1644 AD -1911AD). With its 27.4 meters (89.9 feet) height and five-room broad span, the building holds over 6000 priceless original buddhist scriptures, a national treasure of sorts.
The exterior of the Scriptures Pavilion was decorated with railings and layered terraces. The Pavilion is found behind and North of the Pagoda.
The wooden Pagoda itself is 9 story's high and sits upon a twenty by twenty meter brick foundation which dates to the year 528 AD. Reaching a height of 32.8 meters (107.6 feet) the Pagoda has dominated its section of Zhangye Town for many centuries past. Surviving natural disasters such as earthquakes, storms and lightning, the Dafo Si Pagoda is a unique remnant of an ancient Era. its beauty and architectural genius only surpassed by the Zhengding Pagoda in Hebei Province.
The Pagoda, Mu Ta, has a unique octagon shaped structure with in each tier with eight dragonhead woodcarvings on each angle of the roof. The Dragonheads carry a bead in the mouth and a wind-bell below their necks. Founded upon a brick platform, the main body of the first to seventh storeys are constructed with brick walls but wooden eaves.
The eaves are formed into pavilion style structure. Within the pagoda, each floor has doors, cloisters, engraved windows and lintels, which were embedded with brick carved steles. The eighth and ninth storeys of this Pagoda are entirely constructed of wood.
The pagoda tapers gradually from the bottom, while the height of the storeys becomes lower with each succesive step. The doors and windows are on different sides of different storeys giving the Pagoda a frivolous asymetrical look. There are doors on the east and west sides of the first storey; false doors on the east and west sides and false windows on the south and north sides of the second storey; doors on four sides and moon-shaped windows on the third storey; doors on the east and west sides and false windows on the south and north sides of the fifth storey; doors on four sides of the six storey, and no doors but moon-shaped windows on the south and north sides of the seventh storey.
Carved on the false windows are designs of flowers, and above the doors are inscribed boards. The board over the east door of the first storey says, "Reach paradise," and the inscription above the west door says, "Enter the state of samadhi. " The whole pagoda looks steady and exquisite.
The 9 Story Pagoda of Dafo Si is unique from most other pagodas because neither a nail nor a rivet can be found in the entire structure. Ascending to the top, one can get a panoramic view of the surrounding city of today.
The present Wooden Pagoda has been well kept since. Recently, between 1983 to 1986, the local government allocated funds to restore the whole temple. With an increase in funding from a local and provincial level made possibly by China's economic miracle, the Dafo Si has been well maintained, serving as a Jewel in the Crown of the City and its thriving Tourism Industry.
The Great Buddha Temple of Zhangye is one of Zhangye City Prefectures 'Five Elements' Pagodas. The elements being: Metal, wood, water, fire and earth (The other 4 such Pagoda's will be described on this website later).
Due to its ancient history and distinct features the Zhangye Pagoda of Dafo Si is considered magnificent and unique, even within China.
Last but not least, the Zhangye Folk Customs Museum is located in the Wooden Pagoda Temple.
To find the exact location easiest. Start by locating the drum tower in the old Center of Zhangye. From there it is some distance walking, two blocks southward and one block westward to find the Great Buddha Temple. Luckily, at most times the Top of the wooden Pagoda can be seen, thus guiding the way.
Locally, the address of the Temple Complex is described as located in the south street of Zhangye County Government, but visitors who don't know where to find the City Hall are lost with such directions.
Due to its central location in Town, during the high season the Temple can be quite heavily visited, with tour groups of mostly Chinese Nationals flocking by. The current admission fee is CNY 50. Opening Hours are between: 08:00 AM and 17:30 PM.