Lofty legends: 14 ancient Chinese pagodas with distinctive styles

The East and West pagodas, Quanzhou, Fujian province

Updated: Apr 13, 2022 Print
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The acclaimed landmarks of Quanzhou city, the East and West pagodas, are the tallest existing pair of stone pagodas completed in the Song Dynasty (960-1279) in China. They reflect the highest level of craftsmanship of Chinese stone architects in the 13th century and are great paragons of their kind.

One of the East and West pagodas bathed in a glow of the sun [Photo/VCG]

The East and West pagodas are the common names of the Zhenguo (country guarding) and Renshou (benevolence and longevity) pagodas which stand on both sides of the Main Shrine Hall of the Kaiyuan Temple in Quanzhou. Established in 686, the temple boasted the largest scale and highest official status during the Song and Yuan dynasties (960-1368). Its lavish architectural form and precious cultural value manifest the extraordinary political status as well as financial and cultural competence of the local Citong Harbor in that period, crowning the temple one of the 22 sites of the Quanzhou: Emporium of the World in Song-Yuan China, a UNESCO World Heritage.

The Zhenguo Pagoda, one of the paired pagodas in Quanzhou [Photo/VCG]

The Zhenguo and Renshou pagodas both have five stories and an octagonal plan. With heights of 48 meters and 45 meters respectively, they now share similar structures and designs except for arched brackets and some partial decorations. They were both built with pagoda core pillars, Sumeru terraces, stairs in the inside corridors and handrails on each floor. There are 80 Buddhist relief carvings decorating the exterior walls of the pagodas.

The Zhenguo Pagoda was originally built as a wooden one with five stories in the Tang Dynasty (618-907). After several refurbishments, it was reconstructed to a stone pagoda in 1250. Likewise, the Renshou Pagoda was also originally constructed in wood and rebuilt into a stone one in 1238 after a number of alterations.

The Renshou Pagoda shares a common architectural style with the Zhenguo Pagoda. [Photo/VCG]


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