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
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.
The layout and structure of the
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.
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?