Mysterious and dangerous.
This is Xuankong Temple, known as The Hanging Temple and The Hanging Monastery.
This architectural masterpiece is 1550 years old, built in 491.
Like most ancient Chinese architecture, it is all timber-work: think wood everything: posts, beams, joists, walls, roof, columns.
The beautiful decorative painting and color-glazed roofing preserves the wood and sustains it against decomposition.
As advanced as Chinese civilization was, even in 491, you have to marvel at the ability of workers to create this structure which simply appears to be hanging from the sheer face of a cliff.
We don't know a whole lot about the deets, about the workers, the crews, or how they traversed the dangerously high rock - but in true Chinese form, there are legends that tell of its building. We do know that a unique mechanical method was used to secure the temple: crossbeams were half-inserted into the rock as a foundation, while the rock wall in back became its support.
You can imagine that it is visited by hundreds of tourists, engineers, and construction specialists each year from all over the world who marvel at the design and seeming impossibility of it. So how do we get there ourselves?
It's a long journey. Fly to Beijing, which takes 12-15 hours from California. Then take a train to Datong, a 6 hour trip. Then take a taxi or a van to the Hanging Temple, about a 2 hour long ride. Buy your tickets at the gate, and begin the ascent on stairs that climb up for 164 feet. They are steep. Scary if you have a fear of heights. And for many people that's roughly another hour. In all, it's nearly a 24 hour trek from the West Coast of America.
But it makes my heart sing! Old temples, stupas, gothic cathedrals - churches of all sizes, shapes and denominations - hold me in awe. The splendor of oil paintings, frescoes, altars, icons - the articles symbolic of devotion - never cease to amaze me. Massive inspiration and devotion (or at least the dedication of artists and laborers) are obvious in the legacy of their work. What lies in the hearts of those work who toil to craft such places of beauty for worship?
The Hanging Temple is evidence of both inspired vision and dedicated labor.
But besides its stunning location and the peril of building it, there is something else special about it.
It is the only temple in which all three of the traditional Chinese religions are present: Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism.
The statue representing Buddhism is of Sakyamuni Buddha, whose teachings inspired a number of distinct schools of Buddhism characterized by an emphasis on peace and compassion.
The statue representing Taoism is of Lao Tzu, the ancient Chinese philosopher who wrote the Tao Te Ching and was the founder of Taoism.
The statue representing Confucianism, is of course, that of Confucius. He was a teacher, philosopher, and a political figure. Confucianism, like Buddhism, is more a philosophy than a religion, and it places emphasis on ethical-sociopolitical teachings.
All the dieties reside in San Jiao Hall (Hall of Three Divinities).
Of which I have no good photos, save for the Buddha, above.
And look at these incredible roof lines and colors.
It isn't merely one or two buildings, either. I think of it as a complex.
Over 40 halls, cabinets and pavilions within the area are connected by corridors, bridges and boardwalks. They're evenly distributed and well-balanced in height. Inside the temple are more than 80 bronze cast statues, iron cast statues, and clay sculptured statues, along with stone carvings handed down from different dynasties.
It is a heritage site in China.
I'm sorry to say I don't know if it is still in use as a religious center. But I don't think so.
If I head to Beijing, I'm definitely taking a day to explore the amazing hanging temple.
And if you get there before I do - send pictures! Tell me the story!