Like a Chinese Petra, but for Monks
June 21, 2006 10:10 PM   Subscribe

The Hanging Monastery of Xuankong is is one of China’s unique and remarkable feats of architectural engineering. It is built about a third of the way up a vertical cliff in Golden Dragon Canyon. The temple consists of forty caves, or rooms, including six main halls, but its characteristic feature is the elaborate wooden façade of pavilions and walkways precariously resting on timbers jutting out horizontally and vertically from the cliff.
posted by jonson (25 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Quite NSFW ads on the first link..
posted by lundman at 10:17 PM on June 21, 2006

I'm betting jonson has adblock, because i do and don't see those ads
posted by sourbrew at 11:00 PM on June 21, 2006

also sweet post, thanks man.
posted by sourbrew at 11:01 PM on June 21, 2006

sourbrew, yes to the adblock. I went back to the site repeatedly to see why I couldn't see what lundman was referring to. Glad to see I'm not crazy...
posted by jonson at 11:07 PM on June 21, 2006

TriviaFilter: I am relatively certain that this was the inspiration (at least partially) for the Temple Hanging In Air from Dan Simmons's Rise of Endymion.
posted by scrump at 11:10 PM on June 21, 2006

Very cool - it sort of reminds me of some of the Anasazi ruins in the American Southwest. Thanks for the links.
posted by Staggering Jack at 11:16 PM on June 21, 2006

Yet another amazing post jonson. Wow. Way cool. That is one incredible building. The photograph of the walkway made me sick. Looking over that flimsy balcony down the sheer cliffside gave me vertigo sitting in my chair in Hell's Kitchen.

And it sounds like a fascinating place too: The second attraction of Hanging Monastery is that it includes Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism. Inside the monastery, the sculptures of Sakyamuni, Confucius and Laotzu appear together, which is unusual.

There are some other cliff monasteries dangling over the edge. One in Greece, another, another, in Bhutan, in Turkey, Montenegro and India.
posted by nickyskye at 11:24 PM on June 21, 2006

Or the Sumela Monastery near Trabzon on Turkey's Black Sea coast.

on preview: d'oh, nickyskye! Well, I went to all the trouble of googling, so I am gonna persist and post...
posted by UbuRoivas at 11:29 PM on June 21, 2006

Can someone explain to me if some part of the temple is actually either hanging or suspended somehow? I'm not trying to be pedantic or anything, really, I am genuinely curious if it's just called that or if it's a bad translation or if some part of it actually is hanging.
posted by nightchrome at 11:47 PM on June 21, 2006

I don't believe any of the temple actually hangs, but the illusion is given that the monastery just clings to the face of the mountain, when in fact it's built into & upon cantilevered beams that are embedded deep in the rock face. And nickyskye, awesome comment, thanks! I love the first image the most (the link behind the word "Greece"), it's just incredible.
posted by jonson at 11:58 PM on June 21, 2006

Wow, yeah that Greece picture is fantastic.
posted by nightchrome at 12:04 AM on June 22, 2006

My favorite of the Chinese cliff-dwelling-type-things is Maijishan ("Wheat stack mountain"). Some more photos of it. It's one of China's best Buddhist caves, up there with Longmen, Yungang and of course Dunhuang.

Maijishan is built into the side of the mountain, with some huge sculptures and grottoes and things. I'd dearly like to go there sometime. So far, I've only been to Yungang.

Anyway, very cool stuff, jonson!
posted by jiawen at 1:55 AM on June 22, 2006

The most mindblowing part to me is the fact that this precarious architecture has been there 1400 years. Shiiiiiiiit. Respect.
Thanks jonson (and others for the additional links).
posted by peacay at 2:33 AM on June 22, 2006

Can someone explain to me if some part of the temple is actually either hanging or suspended somehow?

You climb a cliff, dig a room (cave) out of the rock, and slide long sturdy beams under the room's floor and into the rock in the back of the room, leaving X feet of the beams sticking out into space to support a balcony. At least that's what it sounds like to me. But if they'd called it Cave Monks with Porches, maybe it wouldn't get so many tourists. "Hanging" sounds magically precarious, like the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.
posted by pracowity at 4:00 AM on June 22, 2006

Coool! I suppose that pictures of the shrines are not permitted. Too bad; I would like to see the status Buddha, Confucius, Lao Tsu. Nice post.
posted by Tullius at 4:11 AM on June 22, 2006

> Quite NSFW ads on the first link..

Jesus -- where do you work?
posted by catchmurray at 4:54 AM on June 22, 2006

Not quite the opposite.
posted by NinjaTadpole at 4:57 AM on June 22, 2006

Jesus -- where do you work?

In a monastery hanging from a cliff in China.
posted by pracowity at 5:08 AM on June 22, 2006

"Jesus -- where do you work?"

Is this a Cheech and Chong sketch?
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 5:27 AM on June 22, 2006

jiawen, thanks, that place (Maijishan) looks amazing! I love the way the facade frames the twin buddhas, it's like something you'd only see on a movie set.
posted by jonson at 7:08 AM on June 22, 2006

Monks with porches, cute.

The literal translation of Xuan is "Time". The literal translation of Kong is "Space". The literal translation of Xuan Kong therefore is "Time and Space".

There are images of the interior of Xuankong, I've seen them and can't find them now. One just has to dig a bit.

The main site of jonson's third link is also cool.

The Bhutan link, which I screwed up in my first post, is supposed to be of Taktsang Monastery, it's also a cliffhanger.

Yungang Grotto is incredible. It's so beautiful! and Maijishan is surrealistic. It partly reminds me of the fire escapes in my neighborhood, 'just' on the side of mountains. Interesting how some people like the feeling reality of being precariously up in high places.

Nuns also live in cliffhanging nunneries.
posted by nickyskye at 11:59 AM on June 22, 2006

Huh? I think Xuankong is just 懸空 xuan2kong1 "hanging"/"suspended", thus "The Hanging Temple". Nothing very amazing about that.

If you look at the etymology, 空 is pretty interesting -- it's partially "space", but also "nothingness", as in the Buddhist phrase 色即是空, 空即是色 "form is nothingness, nothingness is form". But in the word 懸空, it just means "air". 懸 means "to hang" or "to be suspended" (nothing about "time"), so 懸空 just means "hanging in the air", although it can be taken to have deeper, Buddhist implications. But nothing about "time and space".
posted by jiawen at 4:16 PM on June 22, 2006

jiawen, The information about that translation was taken from feng shui sites, which have the same name as the monastery: Xuan Kong Mi Zhi (Secrets of Time and Space)
Shen's Xuan Kong Xue (Master Shen's Time-Space Feng Shui School)
posted by nickyskye at 4:39 PM on June 22, 2006

I think that's a different Xuan. Perhaps 玄 xuan1 "mysterious", or 旋 xuan2 "to cycle, to return back". Remember, the same spelling of a Mandarin word can easily be a dozen different actual words, especially if you don't include tone transcription. For example, 總會 and 棕灰 would both be spelled zonghui, but one means "headquarters, gathering place" and the other means "brownish-grey". They have nothing to do with each other besides similar pronunciations. They probably aren't even phonological related.

Everything I've seen so far about the temple indicates that it's 懸空寺, simply "the Hanging Temple", no relation to the Fengshui school. Although further searches turned up sites that said the temple was originally called 玄空寺, but I still don't think that has anything to do with time and space. It seems like 旋 might mean "time" in a loose sense, but 玄 (the one used here) just means "mysterious, deep, unfathomable".

Chinese is fun, huh? :)
posted by jiawen at 4:56 PM on June 22, 2006

jiawen, Wow, that's fascinating! Thank you for the excellent education. Yes, Chinese sounds like an amazing language.
posted by nickyskye at 11:36 PM on June 22, 2006

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