Dali Three Pagodas

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Dali Three Pagodas
Dali Three Pagodas

The Three Pagodas are an ensemble of three independent pagoda towers arranged on the corners of a equilateral triangle, near the town of Dali, Yunnan province, China, dating from the time of the Nanzhao kingdom and Kingdom of Dali.

The Three Pagodas are located about 1.5 km (0.93 mi) north of scenic Dali, Yunnan province. They are at the east foot of the tenth peak of the massive Cangshan Mountains and face the west shore of the Erhai Lake of the ancient Dali town.

Dali Three Pagodas
Dali Three Pagodas

The Three Pagodas are made of brick and covered with white mud. As its name implies, the Three Pagodas comprise three independent pagodas forming a symmetric triangle. The elegant, balanced and stately style is unique in China¡¯s ancient Buddhist architectures, which makes it a must-see in the tour of Dali. The Three Pagodas, visible from miles away, has been a landmark of Dali City and selected as a national treasure meriting preservation in China.

The main pagoda, known as Qianxun Pagoda (pinyin Qian Xun Ta), reportedly built during 823-840 AD by king Quan Fengyou of the Nanzhao state, is 69.6 meters (227 feet) high and is one of the tallest pagodas in China's history. The central pagoda is square shaped and composed of sixteen stories; each story has multiple tiers of upturned eaves. There is a carved shrine containing a white marble sitting Buddha statue at the center of each faoade of every story. The body of the pagoda is hollow from the first to the eighth story, surrounded with 3.3 meters (10 feet) thick walls. In 1978, more than 700 Buddhist antiques, including sculptures made of gold, silver, wood or crystal and documents, were found in the body during a major repairing work. The designers of the pagoda are supposed to have come from Xi'an, the capital of Tang Dynasty at that time and the location of another pagoda, Small Wild Goose Pagoda, which shares the similar style but is one hundred years older.

Dali Three Pagodas
Dali Three Pagodas

The other two sibling pagodas, built about one hundred years later, stand to the northwest and southwest of Qianxun Pagoda. They are 42.19 meters (140 feet) high. Different from Qianxun Pagoda, they are solid and octagonal with ten stories. The center of each side of every story is decorated with a shrine containing a Buddha statue.

There is a lake behind them. Named Juying Chi (Reflection pond), the pond is known to be able to reflect images of the Three Pagodas.

Features of Three Pagodas

The Three Pagodas are cream-colored, delicate-looking pagodas. They are situated in the shape of a triangle. The tallest and oldest of the three was built during the reign of a king of the Nanzhao Kingdom about 1,150 years ago. The other two were built about 100 years later, probably by the Kingdom of Dali. They are made of brick. They stand at the foot of one of the high peaks of nearby Cangshan Mountain named Yinglo Peak. The tallest pagoda is one of China's best preserved buildings from the time of the Tang Dynasty, and the smaller two pagodas differ in style.

Dali Three Pagodas
Dali Three Pagodas

The main pagoda is called Qianxun. It is said that it was completed about the year 840 AD by a Nanzhao King named Quan Fengyou. It is 16 stories, stands 69.6 meters (227 feet) high, and it is one of the tallest pagodas ever built in China. It is a square shaped. At the bottom, the walls are about 3 meters (10 feet) thick. It has yellow eaves that contrast with the white fa?ade of the pagodas.

The main pagoda looks like a typical Tang Dynasty pagoda, and it is said that architects from Xian which was the capital of the Tang dynasty designed this building. To the east of it stands a stone wall which is engraved with the words "govern the mountains and rivers forever," In 1978, during repairs more than 600 artifacts and documents including sculptures made of gold, silver, wood or crystal were found. Coins, a bronze mirror, porcelain, articles used in Buddhist ritual, musical instruments, gold and silver articles, and matrices for printing Buddhist scriptures in Sanskrit have been discovered in the building or underneath it. It is interesting that in 1979 three copper plates were found that stated that the pagoda was repaired in 1000, 1142 and 1145.

Dali Three Pagodas
Dali Three Pagodas

The other two pagodas were built about 100 years later. It is thought that they were built by rulers of the Dali Kingdom that succeeded the Nanzhao Kingdom. The smaller pagodas' architectural style is more similar to that of Song Dynasty pagodas. They each have ten stories, are slimmer, and are about 42 meters high or about 140 feet tall. The pagodas are empty from the first floor to the eighth floor and have supporting girders inside. The two smaller pagodas stand about 97 meters away from each other. One of them is interesting because it leans like the Tower of Pisa in Italy.

During the one thousand years since the Three Pagodas were built, they have gone through war and earthquakes. They have been repaired numerous times. There was a severe earthquake in the Dali area in 1925. Few buildings in Dali survived, but the Three Pagodas were undamaged.

How to get Three Pagodas

The pagodas are about 1km northwest of the ancient town of Dali. You can either walk or rent a bicycle to reach them. It take about 15 minutes to cycle from the old town.