After two years of renovation work, a project to restore the Wuhua Caves, part of the Yungang Grottoes in Shanxi province, is almost complete. On the first day of the new year, two of the sites will open to the public.
Located near Datong city, the Yungang Grottoes contain 252 shrines and over 51-thousand statues, representing outstanding Buddhist grotto art from the 5th and 6th centuries.
Now units 9 and 10 of the Wuhua Caves are ready to open after a two-year-long makeover. For the researchers, protecting the grottoes meant more than just cleaning them.
“The project mainly comprises of four parts: to reinforce the rock, to restore the murals, to place structures inside the cave providing better support, and to install a system to monitor the result of the restoration so we can do follow-up work if necessary,” says Yan Hongbin, deputy director of Yungang Grottoes Preservation Team.
The largest of the statues inside the grottoes’ 50 caves is 17 meters high. The smallest measures just 2 cm.
The tens of thousands of Buddhist statues offer a glimpse of life at that time, and represent a treasure of sculptural art. In 2001, the site was listed as one of UNESCO’s World Cultural Heritages.
“It’s a big challenge for us to restore these caves, the statues and murals without damaging the original structure. We have to consider all possible outcomes because everything’s interconnected,” Yan says.
Work continues on three other units, which have colorful wall paintings dating back to the Northern Wei Dynasty, from the 4th to the 6th century.