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Longmen Caves, together with Mogao Caves near Dunhuang and Yungang Caves near Datong, are the three great ancient rock sculpture sites in China. A UNESCO World Heritage site, the ravaged Longmen Caves are located 13 km south of Luoyang, an ancient capital city. They stretch for about one km on cliffs along a gorge carved by the Yi river.
Construction began in CE 493, when Emperor Xiaowen moved his capital from Pingcheng (now Datong) to Luoyang, and carving lasted over 400 years through multiple dynasties (Eastern Wei, Western Wei, Northern Qi, Sui, Tang, and Northern Song). There are 2300 caves and niches, more than 2800 pieces of inscriptions, about 80 Buddhist pagodas and 110,000 Buddhist statues, most on the west side. About 60% of all construction dates from the Tang dynasty.
"In the early 20th century, many statues were beheaded by unscrupulous collectors or simply extracted whole, many ending up abroad. Also removed were two murals that today hang in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Atkinson Museum in Kansas City. Some effigies are slowly returning and heads are being slowly restored to their severed necks, but other statutes have had their faces crudely smashed off, deliberate defacement that dates back to the dark days of the Cultural Revolution." (Lonely Planet, China, 2007)
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