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Wudang Mountains Ancient Building Complex

The palaces and temples which form the nucleus of this group of secular and religious buildings exemplify the architectural and artistic achievements of China's Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties. Wudang Mountains Ancient Building Complex is situated in the scenic valleys and on the slopes of the Wudang Mountains in Hubei Province, the site, which was built as an organized complex during the Ming dynasty (14th-17th centuries), represents the highest standards of Chinese art and architecture over a period of some 1,000 years.

Wudang Mountains Ancient Building Complex
Continent: Asia
Country: China
Category: Cultural
Criterion: (I)(II) (VI)
Date of Inscription: 1994

The Blessed Land

To commemorate the success of the Governor of the Wudang Administrative Region in bringing rain by prayer, Emperor Taizong ordered the Five Dragon Hall to be built (627-49). This was quickly followed by the Taiyi and Yanchang Temples, and in 869 the Weiwu Gong Temple. In 1018 Song Emperor Zhenzong converted the Five Dragon Hall into a temple, and his successor had the Purple Heaven Hall built beneath the Zhanqi Peak. Then came the Laojun Monastery and the Xianguan Terrace. In 1304 the mountains became known as 'The Blessed Land', at which time the Gate to the Blessed Land was constructed.

The Tianyi-Zhenqing Palace, the Yuxu Cliff Temple, the Thunder God's Cave, and the Yinxian Cliff Temple were also built around this time. After his enthronement Ming Emperor Zhu Di started construction work in the Wudang Mountains. It took 20,000 men 12 years to complete the work, which included 9 palaces, 9 temples, 36 monasteries, 72 cliff temples, and over 100 stone bridges, divided into 33 groups.

Ancient Building Complex in the Wudang Mountains
Ancient Building Complex in the Wudang Mountains

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The Wudang (Taihe) Mountain is located in Danjiangkou City, Hubei Province. Sky Pillar Peak, the highest at 1,612 m is surrounded by 72 lesser peaks and 24 ravines. The palaces and temples, which acted as nuclei for other structures, were built in valleys or on terraces, with monasteries and cliff temples clustered around them. They were distributed regularly across the landscape and linked by a network of sacred roads.

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Of the vast complex created during the Ming dynasty, four Taoist palaces (and three in ruins) survive, along with two temples and many monasteries and cliff temples. The Golden Shrine, situated in the middle of a stone terrace on the top of Sky Pillar Peak, was built from bronze, imitating wooden construction. The shrine, in the form of a palace, is 5.54 m high and surrounded by columns that support the five-ridged roof with double eaves (a form only permitted on imperial buildings). The whole structure is richly decorated and painted. The Ancient Bronze Shrine, on top of the Lotus Flower Peak, was made in 1307, in the same way as the Golden Shrine. The metalwork of the shrine is the earliest anywhere in China. The Forbidden City round the Sky Pillar Peak dates from 1419. Four wooden gates represent the Gates of Heaven.

The Purple Heaven Palace, built in 1119-26, rebuilt in 1413 and extended in 1803-20, is the largest and best-preserved building complex in the Wudang Mountains. There are five ascending terraces on the central axis, each with its hall; on the sides of the halls there are pavilions and annexes used by the Taoist monks as living quarters. The main structure is the Purple Heaven Hall, built from gigantic wooden pillars and beams. The decoration is sumptuous, especially the roof, which is covered with peacock-blue tiles and ornamented ridge tiles. The Nanyang Palace, built in 1285-1310 and extended in 1312, includes 21 buildings. The major buildings include the Tianyi-Zhenqing Stone Hall, Liangyi Hall, Bagua Pavilion, Tiger and Dragon Hall, Grand Pavilion and South Heavenly Gate.

The Dragon Head Incense Burner is a stone structure that projects over a deep valley. The farther end is carved in the form of a dragon's head in which an incense burner was placed. It is of special artistic and technological importance for its design and construction. The Fuzhen Temple, below the Lion Peak, was built in 1412 and extended in 1683. A screen wall, an incense burner, the Dragon and Tiger Hall, and the Prince's Hall are on the main axis of the complex. The Zhishi-Xuanyue Gateway is located at the intersection of the former Sacred Road and the main highway and marks the entrance to the Wudang Mountains. It is built from stone imitating wood and dates from 1522. It is ornately decorated with carved patterns of tortoises, dragons, cranes, plants, clouds, waves and celestial beings.

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