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A Lingering Mystery: Longyou Grottoes (Part I)

Longyou County in the midwest of East China's Zhejiang Province , has a small river which wriggles across the long and narrow area, and divides the county seat and the opposite Phoenix Hill. For thousands of years, the hill has been nothing more than a tranquil and silent earth pileup covered with thick forests. But the incredible discovery on June 9, 1992, which unveiled a long-hidden mystery on Phoenix Hill, made the place one of the best-known places in China.

By the end of 1950s, the Phoenix Hill had never been dwelled by local villagers. Later a huge flood attacked the villages at the foot of the hill, forcing the villagers move uphill, and thus the new Shiyanbei Village was formed.

For the following 40 years, the villagers led tranquil and comfortable lives. Though at a higher altitude, they have no problem with water supply, since there were a dozen of natural swags on the mountain. According to the villagers, these swags had existed before they settled down there, and the water in them was of very good quality and inexhaustible. They washed clothes and prepared meals by the swags for dozens of years, but the question of how the swags came into existence was never pondered seriously. Out of curiosity, some villagers had tried to measure the depth of the swags with bamboos, but they never touched the bottoms, which contributed to its alias -- "unfathomable swags".

  Discovery of the Grottoes

In June, 1992, a villager named Wu Anai, unable to suppress the long-felt curiosity inside him any more, decided to pump the water out in one of the swags to confirm his presumption of a natural water-eroded cave.

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  The layout and structure of the caves

Only a rough estimation of the workload involved in building these five caves is awe-inspiring. The four caves cover an average floor surface of 1,200 square meters, so each of the caves should have involved excavation of 36,000 cubic meters of stone. Since a total of 24 such caves have already been found in Shiyanbei Village, the overall excavation would be 900,000 cubic meters. 

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  Inside decoration?

Standing on the floor of the cave, one could hardly ignore the special patterns on the walls and steles. Are these patterns just the traces of excavation or intended decoration? If it if designed for the ornamental purpose, what is the underlying meaning of these patterns?

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(Author: Jeff)

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