Ancient Building Complex in the Wudang Mountains
The palaces and temples which form the nucleus of this group of secular and religious buildings exemplify the architectural and artistic achievements of China's Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties. Situated in the scenic valleys and on the slopes of the Wudang Mountains in Hubei Province, the site, which was built as an organized complex during the Ming dynasty (14th-17th centuries), represents the highest standards of Chinese art and architecture over a period of some 1,000 years.
To commemorate the success of the Governor of the Wudang Administrative Region in bringing rain by prayer, Emperor Taizong ordered the Five Dragon Hall to be built (627-49). This was quickly followed by the Taiyi and Yanchang Temples, and in 869 the Weiwu Gong Temple. In 1018 Song Emperor Zhenzong converted the Five Dragon Hall into a temple, and his successor had the Purple Heaven Hall built beneath the Zhanqi Peak. Then came the Laojun Monastery and the Xianguan Terrace. In 1304 the mountains became known as 'The Blessed Land', at which time the Gate to the Blessed Land was constructed. The Tianyi-Zhenqing Palace, the Yuxu Cliff Temple, the Thunder God's Cave, and the Yinxian Cliff Temple were also built around this time. After his enthronement Ming Emperor Zhu Di started construction work in the Wudang Mountains. It took 20,000 men 12 years to complete the work, which included 9 palaces, 9 temples, 36 monasteries, 72 cliff temples, and over 100 stone bridges, divided into 33 groups.
The Wudang (Taihe) Mountain is located in Danjiangkou City, Hubei Province. Sky Pillar Peak, the highest at 1,612 m is surrounded by 72 lesser peaks and 24 ravines. The palaces and temples, which acted as nuclei for other structures, were built in valleys or on terraces, with monasteries and cliff temples clustered around them. They were distributed regularly across the landscape and linked by a network of sacred roads.
Of the vast complex created during the Ming dynasty, four Taoist palaces (and three in ruins) survive, along with two temples and many monasteries and cliff temples. The Golden Shrine, situated in the middle of a stone terrace on the top of Sky Pillar Peak, was built from bronze, imitating wooden construction. The shrine, in the form of a palace, is 5.54 m high and surrounded by columns that support the five-ridged roof with double eaves (a form only permitted on imperial buildings). The whole structure is richly decorated and painted. The Ancient Bronze Shrine, on top of the Lotus Flower Peak, was made in 1307, in the same way as the Golden Shrine. The metalwork of the shrine is the earliest anywhere in China. The Forbidden City round the Sky Pillar Peak dates from 1419. Four wooden gates represent the Gates of Heaven.
The Purple Heaven Palace, built in 1119-26, rebuilt in 1413 and extended in 1803-20, is the largest and best-preserved building complex in the Wudang Mountains. There are five ascending terraces on the central axis, each with its hall; on the sides of the halls there are pavilions and annexes used by the Taoist monks as living quarters. The main structure is the Purple Heaven Hall, built from gigantic wooden pillars and beams. The decoration is sumptuous, especially the roof, which is covered with peacock-blue tiles and ornamented ridge tiles. The Nanyang Palace, built in 1285-1310 and extended in 1312, includes 21 buildings. The major buildings include the Tianyi-Zhenqing Stone Hall, Liangyi Hall, Bagua Pavilion, Tiger and Dragon Hall, Grand Pavilion and South Heavenly Gate.
The Dragon Head Incense Burner is a stone structure that projects over a deep valley. The farther end is carved in the form of a dragon's head in which an incense burner was placed. It is of special artistic and technological importance for its design and construction. The Fuzhen Temple, below the Lion Peak, was built in 1412 and extended in 1683. A screen wall, an incense burner, the Dragon and Tiger Hall, and the Prince's Hall are on the main axis of the complex. The Zhishi-Xuanyue Gateway is located at the intersection of the former Sacred Road and the main highway and marks the entrance to the Wudang Mountains. It is built from stone imitating wood and dates from 1522. It is ornately decorated with carved patterns of tortoises, dragons, cranes, plants, clouds, waves and celestial beings.
Work began on the buildings in the Wudang Mountains in the early Tang Dynasty, in AD 627-49. To commemorate the success of Yiao Jian, Governor of the Wudang Administrative Region, in bringing rain by prayer, the Emperor Taizong ordered the Five Dragon Hall to be built. This was quickly followed by the Taiyi and Yanchang Temples, and in 869 the Weiwu Gong Temple (Temple of the Powerful Duke) was built. In 1018 the Song Emperor Zhenzong converted the Five Dragon Hall into a temple, and his successor Huizong had the Purple Heaven Hall built beneath the Zhanqi Peak. Then came the Laojun Monastery and the Xianguan Terrace.
The Yuan Emperors relied on Taoism for support, and so the Emperor Shizu extended the Five Dragon Temple and made it into a palace. The Emperor Renzong, whose birthday was that of the god Zhenwu, gave a commemorative plaque to the building designed to give the impression that he was the god in disguise. In 1304 the mountains became known as 'The Blessed Land', at which time the Gate to the Blessed Land was constructed. The Tianyi-Zhenqing Palace, the Yuxu Cliff Temple, the Thunder God's Cave, and the Yinxian Cliff Temple were also built around this time.
After his enthronement the Ming Emperor Zhu Di declared that his imperial power was granted by God, and announced that he was under the protection of the Taoist god Zhenwu. To repay the god's favour, he put his son-in-law Mu Xin, the head of the Ministry of Works Guo Jin, and the head of the Ministry of Rites Jin Chun at the head of four hundred officials charged with construction work in the Wudang Mountains. It took twenty thousand men twelve years to complete the work, which included nine palaces, nine temples, 36 monasteries, 72 cliff temples, and over a hundred stone bridges, divided into 33 groups. In 1416 he sent over three thousand prisoners to the area to work on the land to provision the Taoist monks. The local inhabitants were exempted from co&e labour, a large military force was stationed in the area, and workers were assigned to keep the temples and palaces clean. Renowned Taoists were summoned from all parts of the country to serve as elders at important palaces and temples. The title of 'Great Mountain' was conferred on the Wudang range. All the subsequenMt ing Emperors sent their favourite eunuchst o the mountain to worship and allocated funds for the upkeep of the buildings. In 1552 the Ming Emperor Shizong put Lu Jie, head of the Ministry of Works, in charge of repair work; under his leadership, a hundred officials and workmen from more than sixty counties worked for nearly two years. The Zhishi-Xuanyue Gate was set up to commemorate this work.
During the Ming Dynasty over 4000 ha of land belonged to the temples, thousand of Taoists lived in the area, and 369 Imperial edicts concerning the mountain were issued. The fame of Taoist monks from Wudang such as Zhang Shouqing, Lu Dayou, and Wang Zhen spread widely across China.