Miraculous vestiges from the 5th and 6th centuries, the Yungang Caves honeycomb a spread of sandstone cliffs outside the city of Datong, a day’s journey west of Beijing in Shanxi Province. The grottoes were carved by the Northern Wei dynasty over a period of around seventy years, beginning in 453AD, and remain in a remarkable state of preservation. Influences from ancient Greece, Persia, Ceylon and India are detectable in the finely sculpted features of the giant Buddhas, and swirls of minor deities, bodhisattvas, celestial nymphs and decorative motifs surrounding them. The interiors of many shrines also retain wonderfully vibrant paintings, rendered in earthy reds, yellow ochre and lapis blue.

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