The Next ancient wonder on the list must be the Mu Ta Pagoda, at Ying Xian Village in the mountainous Hunyuan County due south east of Datong city. The Mu Ta Pagoda is the very oldest of the few remaining wooden Pagodas in China. .
Immediately next in importance, although not according to the tourist industry, is the Great Wall of China which used to pass both north and south of Datong. In all fairness, of the considerable defenses that once existed to the north of the city of Datong, only very sparse broken fragments exist, none of which would attract bus loads of cheerful tourist to
This page was last updated on: June 5, 2017
Shanxi Province of China
Highlights, Monuments and Scenic sites of Shanxi Province
North Shanxi Province-
From North to South, the Monuments and Scenic Sites of Shanxi Province start with the City of Datong and the World Cultural Heritage Site of Cloud Ridge 1000 Buddha Caves at nearby Yungang Village. Today mainly known as a heavy industrial center of the coal industry, which does not make it sound particularly attractive, Datong is a city with a rich history of over 2000 years. It may well be noted that the City of Datong ranks in the list of China's 24 leading Cultural & Historic Cities.
Once, a long time ago, Datong served briefly as the Capital City of China during the (Northern) Wei Dynasty (386 AD- 534 AD), a Rule established by a nomadic peoples from the North. As historians can now reconstruct, the earliest Datong was a frontier trading post on the Silk (and Tea) Road in a strategic border area. . The Tuoba Wei also provided the city with its first version of a city wall, at the time constructed of rammed earth and clay. They also were the first to start construction on the Yungang Cave Statues Complex, which expanded upon during later Dynasties and Era's, today are a UNESCO world cultural heritage site, providing memory and living proof of the progression of Buddhism into China along the ancient Silk Road.
Not surprisingly, due to its strategic position, Datong soon became a Garrison City guarding the vital Pass of YanMenGuan on the Outer layer of the Great Wall of China. Throughout history and a succession of Dynasties Datong played a crucial role in China's Northern Defenses against invading Mongol (and other) Tribes but also served as one of the vital gateways to the "other" world of the nomadic people and the steppes of North- and Central Asia.
As late as during the Ming Dynasty (1368 AD - 1644 AD), the City was attacked by large armies on several occasions and raised to the ground at least 2 times. It was during this era that the City received and even heavier, more robust version of its own City Wall and it was also the time when Datong once more became home to an Imperial Palace.
At other more peaceful times Datong served as one of the few designated border market towns, thus continuing a legacy as a vital crossroads of cultures.
Although after the succesful military campaigns of the Kangxi Emperor (Reign: 1661 AD - 1722 AD) and his Grandson the Qianlong Emperor of the Qing Dynasty to conquer Inner- and Outer Mongolia the city no longer strictly served as border town, by all means it still was. Still economically viable, under the rule of the Manchu Qing, Datong once more blossomed as trading city, particularly after the opening up of the (Silk and) Tea Road into Russian held lands and beyond to Moscow.
China Report - Map of the Great Wall during the Ming Dynasty
Satellite image of China and North-East Asia, with a super-imposed schematic Map of the location and Path of the Great Wall as constructed during the Reign of the Ming Dynasty. Included for reference are City names, geographical features of landscape, Names and locations of Passes on the Great Wall of China.
West Shanxi Province -
From the North we first move West to the border of Shanxi Province with neighboring Shaanxi Province, where the Yellow River flows South. In the list of Top-sites in Shanxi Province, here we find the Hukou Falls of the Yellow River at Yixian, the only waterfall on the entire 5000+ kilometers of the Yellow River. When swollen by rains, the yellow river spectaculary moves down falls and rapids into a Gorge running south toward its meeting with the Fen River. Quite some distance upstream to the North lies the village of PianGuan in Xinzhou Prefecture, where the Great Wall of China meets the yellow river and is interrupted by it. Visit remote and unknown PianGuan Pass of the Great Wall of China. A crucial Pass on the outer wall in ancient times, and more recently a well-defended Pass in battles against the Japanese Invaders of 1937 AD. The highest Mountain in West Shanxi Province is Helan Shan with spectacular views from its top at 2783 meters. The West is rough and mountainous.
An old Monk heads toward the Main Bhagavan Stack Hall at the HuaYan Monastery of Datong.
The resulting Datong of today is a dusty, gritty, often heavily air polluted yet still interesting historic city which is home to some ancient and original Temples and Monasteries containing relics of Wei, Han, Tang and later Dynasties.
In addition there is the Ming Dynasty City Wall and the vicinity of other historic landmarks of remarkable beauty, first among which the Yixian Wooden Pagoda and somewhat closer to Datong City, the world renowned Yungang Buddhist Cave Art Complex. Although in fact most foreign visitors come to Datong exclusively to see the
Schematic Map depicting the multiple layers of the Great Wall of circling Beijing, then continuing into North Shanxi Province, passed YanMenGuan at Datong to PianGuan in the North-West Of Shanxi where it terminates at the Yellow River.The Great Wall continues westward through Shaanxi,Ningxia and Gansu Provinces.
Outside of the Datong many more historic sites from forgotten dynastic days remain scattered and hidden among the rough mountains and hills of the countryside.
This world cultural heritage site is home to a large collection of well-preserved statues dating as far back as the 4Th Century AD and the Northern Wei Dynasty. Equalling the now destroyed statues of Bhamiyan in Afghanistan, and far better preserved than the LongMen Caves at LuoYang in Henan Province, the statues remain among they very few majestic remnants of the Ancient Silk Road, giving roof of the Path of Bhuddism to the East from India, via Nepal, Tibet and Mongolia into North-China.
The sensational Silk Road Statues of Yungangs Cloud Ridge.The number 1 scenic and historical site in North Shanxi Province.
Third in the long list of scenic sites in North Shanxi Province is the so-called Hanging Monastery or Monastery in Mid-Air, a much visited and highly popular yet remote tourist atraction situated at about half the way to the Top of Mount Hengshan (2168 meters), which is one of the higher peaks in this mountainous region. The Monastery, near Hunyuan Village to the South-East of Datong is built into a cliff-face, giving it a unique and spectecular architecture as well as views.
Last but not least comes the Five Terraced Holy Mountain Wu Tai, the highest mountain in Shanxi Province entire at 3058 meters and famous for its Silk Road Heritage and Monasteries filled with Buddhas. Datong and Hunyuan serve as a Northern Gateway to this Holy Mountain Area of which Yadou Shan reaches 3058 meters.
Central Shanxi Province -
As mentioned above in central Shanxi Province lie the Capital City of TaiYuan with the nearby world cultural heritage city of Pingyao. Regardless of its 2500 year history, the Capital of TaiYuan does not rank among major tourist Cities as few historic sites remain. The Capital however it does have its very own Ming Dynasty Era City Wall that can be visited at several locations. The rest of the City consist mainly of wide tree-shaded lanes and lenghts of now increasingly modern appartment blocks. Due to its location in the heartland of Coal and Iron producing country, the City is often, if not usually shrouded in a thick mist of industrial exhaust and fog.
The Main Museum of the City is the Shanxi Provincial Museum (of History) which is divided over two locations in the City. Taiyuan offers are a variety of Temples to explore, the ChongShan Si with its impressive GuanYin (Goddess of Mercy) Statue with a-1000-hands-and-eyes, and the ShuangTa Si.
The ShuangTa Temple is home to two interesting Ming Dynasty Pagodas, which with their height of 55 meters give a spectacular lookout over the city (suburb) area. As one will find when touring the city and Province, these so-called Lingxiao (skyscraping) Double Pagodas built in the Ming Dynasty (1368 AD - 1644 AD) have become the symbol of Taiyuan City. Among the other historic sites of interest in Taiyuan today are the Chunyang Palace built in the Ming Dynasty, which features a unique architectural layout to be explored.
Those looking for a modern experience in Taiyuan can also find have their fill as over the past one to two decades the city of Taiyuan too has metamphorposized into a fully modern city. As some lament the loss of antique buildings, others rejoice in the newfound glitz. It is true that modernity and the abundance of new services have changed the lifestyle of just about any citizen, seemingly overnight. Therefor, today's Taiyuan is not the city described in old guide books but a brandnew experience. Among things Taiyuan has its own well developed modern airport and is also well integrated into the (trans-)National High Speed Railway network. Furthermore, now almost a decade ago, Taiyuan became one of the few
"Space Cities" in China and therefor a destination of choice interested in the Chinese Space Program. Although the Chinese Government remains secretive about its operation, some related attractions can be found.
Outside of TaiYuan, some 25 kilometers to the South-West of the City lies Jinci Si. A grandiose and spectacular, mainly Ming Dynasty Era, Temple complex at the foot of the Xuanwang Hill. The Jinci Temple stands at the very source of the Jin River (Jin He), and includes architectural features such as a bridge spanning the Zhibo Canal and a Terrace of Iron Statues cast in the year 1097 AD. Other notable features are the collection of Song Dynasty Era Clay statues and figurines housed in the Mother Goddes Hall and four stone tablets inscribed by none other than the legendary Tang Dynasty Emperor Li Shimin, better known as Tang Tai Zong himself. The Taizong Emperor was responsible for a Golden Age of the Dynasty and the tablets are true historic treasures.
A Seven story Stone Pagoda completes this beautiful and extensive Temple.
Another of the major attractions in the vicinity of Taiyuan City are the Longshan Grottoes. This Temple Grotto complex was created as late as during the Yuan Dynasty Era (1271 AD -1368 AD) when China was a mere Province of Mongolia and part of the contient wide Mongolian Empire and is far less famous as its Buddhist counterparts such as Longmen (Luoyang, Henan) and Yungang Caves (Datong, Shanxi). However, Longshan Grottoes are unique and are counted as China's largest Taoist grottoes complex.
The list continues with many more greater and lesser treasures.
For more complete information on the Landmarks, Monuments and sights to see in Taiyuan and wider regions, please refer to the Chapter on: Taiyuan City and Prefecture.
Ancient wooden Mu Ta Pagoda of YingXian, top historical site in North Shanxi Province.
To the South-West of Pingyao the Valley continues and meets up with the River Fen. From here it is downstream and along the railway lines to LinFen, an industrial City in the South of Shanxi, recently (2006) declared the most polluted City in the world. Often visibility here is nere nil from smog. Landmarks near Linfen are the Ming Dynasty Prison due East of the City and the Temple of King Yao on the Western side of the City of Linfen.
Further South, in the extreme South-West Corner of Shanxi Province lies the small but growing City of Yuncheng. Enclosed by the Yellow River to the West as well as the South, Yuncheng has no tourist landmarks to speak of but is an important road and railway junction. Nearby, some 18 kilometers to the South near the Yellow River and the border with Henan Province, lies the GuangDi Miao (Temple of Lord Guan), a Temple originally dated to the Sui Dynasty. Although destroyed by Fire in the 18Th Century, it was rebuilt in original style and the large Temple Complex and Monastery are very worthwhile to visit. Great Mountain and country-side sceneries abound.
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Another historicly significant South Shanxi landmark can be found at
the small City of Ruicheng, some 93 kilometers south of Yuncheng.
Here, on the banks of the Yellow River, we find the Yongle Taoist Temple, which holds valuable historic frescoes dating back to the Tang and Song Dynasty Eras. Interestingly, this is not the original site of the Temple. In the 1960s, in advance of the construction of the SanMenXia Dam on the Yellow River (Huang He), and regardless of the ongoing Cultural Revolution, the Temple was moved no less than 3 kilometers south from its former position. The SanMenXia Water Reservoir that resulted from the construction of the Dam on the Yellow River, is now a developing tourist area and forms the border with Henan Province.
Across the River lies the famous Shao Lin Monastery, from which it is down south through country roads to LuoYang in Henan. The Southern part part of Shanxi Province, especialy the south-west corner is pleasant and green and many inhabitants of the area still live in Traditional Cave Housing typical for this area of the Yellow River Basin. Although usually not on the main tourist agenda, a visit to one of such houses can be a great way to learn more about the traditional way of life in Shanxi Province, as it has continued for hundreds of years and countless generations. Mind you, even today a majority of the population live in Cave Houses, which constructed and cut inside the abundant yellow loes cliffs of the area, offer warmth in winter and a pleasant coolness during the hot summers in Shanxi and Central China. During his revolutionary days at the communist headquarters, west across the river in Yanan, Shaanxi Province, even 'Chairman' Mao himself lived in such a convenient and comfortable cave dwelling.
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Most Tourist that visit the Central Province only pass through TaiYuan on their way to nearby PingYao, the now tourist blockbuster (restored) Ming Dynasty era historic city. The small city of PingYao, is located due south of TaiYuan along a valley and steep eastern mountain-ridge running away to the South-West.
At some 40 kilometers from TaiYuan, just besides the highway to PingYao and Linfen lies the Qiao Family Courtyard House. Due to its appearance in the Film Raise the Red Lantern, by Zhang Yimou, the Qiao Family Home and the City of PingYao became worldfamous, and are now a UNESCO world cultural heritage site. Eversince, tourism to this once remote and quiet village-city has exploded and the Qiao Family Courtyard is a well visited site.
The extensive Courtyard House dates from the Qing Dynasty Era, when PingYao, located about halfway along the mountainous route between main Cities Beijing and Xian, became the financial (and banking) Capital of the Chinese Empire. As one result, the rich family father of the Qiao Family, one Qiao Guifa, had the elaborate house constructed counting 6 courtyards and no less than 300 rooms (room=space between 4 pillars). Inside the labyrinth-like complex one can enjoy the unique architecture of the Courtyard House and browse into Ching Dynasty Era Curiosa, Ceramics and Quality Furniture.
At PingYao the main attractions are the 6 kilometer long City Wall of the early Ming Dynasty and the uniquely preserved traditional city layout and architecture of an imperial city of ancient chinese times. Although some major repairs were recently necessary, most of the City remains in its original State. Browse around narrow streets and visit the now restored and repainted South Gate of the City. Dotted around are Hotels housed in traditional courtyards, and musea and tourist shops abound.Recently declared a world cultural heritage site in 1997, the entire City of Pingyao may be regarded as Museum. Highlights are the several hundred homes in the (old) City that have been deemed cultural and historical relics, many of whom have now been turned into Museums.
The Best Time to visit PingYao is during the Lantern Festival, some 15 days after the Chinese New Year. As the newfound Home of the Red Lantern, Pingyao celebrates
the festival spectacularly, with multitudes of red lanterns hung outside ancient mansions and along the narrow alleys of the City and a chinese-country-styled Parade through the old city center. At this time, special delicacies and street-stall flavors are especially abundant in each chinese City and Pingyao offers visitors some of its Best.
Scene from the Upper HuaYan Monastery of Datong with its gigantic Bhagavan Stack Hall, depistory of ancient and original buddhist scriptures and a National Relic.
That is, key word is used to be. Ever since the end of the year 2005, the previously dillapidated Ming Dynasty Era City Wall and with it the entire old city district and various landmarks of Datong have become the sunject of a massive "historic restauration project" which aimed to cater to the swelling tourism industry that has taken the citizens to the road over the last decade. As the travel spree continues. peculiarly however development of the old city district of Datong does not. Among things, the ambitious recasting of the former city walls, once more giving the city a "Ming Dynasty Era Walled City", albeit a fake one. As such, currently (at the beginning of 2015) a much lamented situation exists.
rare statues at the Yungang Caves, international tourists are waking up to the importance of various scenic sights and relics within northern Shanxi Province.
the Ming Dynasty Era Great Wall of China can be identified on satellite image map (to date). True, remains of the much earlier Qin Dynasty Era (221 BC - 206 BC) Great Wall of China have also been identified between the city of Datong and the city of Hohhot, the Capital of Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, however only archeologists and specialists have been able to find them and trace their origins. No ordinary tourist goes out the Fengzhen Pass to see the Qin Wall.
With almost nothing to find on the north side of the city of Datong, most tourist iteneraries involving the Great Wall of China focus on the acclaimed YanMenGuan Great Wall Pass(es) which are located at a considerable distance to the South-West of Datong. Relatively off the beaten path for tourist buses, this Pass and section off the Great Wall of China remains unrestored and until recently offered a fairly unspoiled and thus quite sensational Great Wall of China experience. Remnants of all 3 Gates on the original Ming Dynasty Era Great Wall can be visited. The site has however been developed for tourism since, and quite some of the wild charm of YanmenGuan Pass has been lost.