Lofty legends: 14 ancient Chinese pagodas with distinctive styles

Yingxian County Wooden Pagoda, Shanxi province

Updated: Apr 13, 2022 Print
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Also known as the Sakyamuni Pagoda, the ancient structure stands some 67 meters high in the Fogong Temple in Yingxian county, North China’s Shanxi province.

The Yingxian County Wooden Pagoda is located in Yingxian county, Shanxi province. [Photo/IC]

Boasting a history of nearly 1,000 years, the pagoda is the world's tallest and oldest wooden pagoda in the design of a lofty pavilion. In 2016, the Guinness World Records List included it as the world-tallest wooden pagoda

Completely built in a mortise-and-tenon structure without a single nail, the pagoda weighs over 7,400 tons with its main body made of Prince Rupprecht's larch, a conifer native to North China.

The pagoda shows fine architectural proportion and an elegant outline. It is composed of a base, body and cap. The body presents an octagonal shape in six layers of eaves and nine storeys – five are evident and four are concealed. The finial cap, consisting of seven sections implying Buddhist philosophy, integrates wonderfully with the pagoda body in design.

There are 59 kinds of bracket sets that channel the weight from the roof to the columns and buffer and transport the impact from any outside force. They resemble thousands of blooming lotuses and make the pagoda the “museum of bracket sets”.

The bracket sets placed in great numbers are at once architectural components and decorations of the pagoda. [Photo/IC]

Among the 52 horizontal plaques and six couplets hanging inside and outside the wooden pagoda, two were inscribed by the Chengzu (r. 1402-24) and Wuzong (r. 1505-21) emperors from the Ming Dynasty. The two Sariras (Buddhist relics) discovered in the pagoda in 1966 and 1977 respectively are believed to be the cremated remains of the Sakyamuni Buddha’s teeth, making the pagoda a renowned Buddhist sanctuary in China.

A front view of the pagoda [Photo/IC]


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