Guyaju Caves (Ancient Cliff Dwellings)

Located in a secluded gorge in the west of Yanqing County, the Guyaju Caves (Ancient Cliff Dwellings) are about 50 miles (80 kilometers) northwest of Beijing. Occupying over 24.7 acres (100,000 square meters) on the steep cliff, it is the largest site of an ancient cliff residence community in China. On both sides of the 33 feet (10 meters) wide gorge, there are over 100 stone rooms chiseled by an undefined group of ancient people. From the abundant relics, tourists can learn the history, lifestyle and folk customs of these special ancient people of northern China.

The exact time of the original excavation, history and use of these caves remains an enigma. The most popular theory is that they were made by the Kumo Xi People during the Five Dynasties Period (907 - 960). However, some people believe that they are relics of the Han Dynasty (202 BC - 220 AD). The uncertain origin and various interesting stories add to the mysterious charm of the Guyaju Caves.

Layout & Structure

There are 117 caves in total, forming a cell-like spectacle on the cliff. Some experts calculate that it needed 100 people to work continuously for five years to complete such a large group of caves. It is regarded as the ‘First Maze in China’ and the ‘Second Zhoukoudian Peking Man Site’. Ninety-one caves are scattered along the southern, northern and eastern slopes of the front gorge while a further twenty-six are located on the eastern slope of the rear gorge. It seems strange that most of the caves were chiseled out on the shaded slopes, having in mind the cold winter weather around Beijing.

The orderly location of the caves in the cliff face resembles a multi-storied building. The entrances to the rooms are adjacent. There are stone stairs, stone ladders, and bridges connecting the rooms on different floors. The caves have different sizes and shapes. No matter what shape the cave may be, they all bear features of modern dwellings. Although the stone rooms are generally rectangular, there are some that are square or round, about 5.6 to 5.9 feet (1.7 to 1.8 meters) in height and 3.3 to 19.7 feet (1 to 6 meters) in depth. The largest room is over 24 square yards (20 square meters) and the smallest only 3.6 square yards (3 square meters). There are some single rooms, some suites and many three-roomed apartments, none of which have pillars or beams.

Many traces of human occupation exist at the Guyaju Caves, such as the sites of gateways, windows, stone beds, closets, lamp stands, cooking stoves and horse mangers. The stone bed in the cave is large enough to hold two people. The rooms with horse mangers are stables which can contain four or five horses.

There is an exquisite duplex apartment located at the highest place on the cliff. It is called Guantangzi or Kumo Xi Chieftain’s Mansion. Four exquisitely carved stone columns support the top of the cavern. Inside the capacious main hall there is a big bed in the center, and stone desks and stools.

Origin of Guyaju Caves

Researchers fail to come to any agreement about the origins and use of the Guyaju Caves. There are many different perceptions and hypothesis about these ancient cliff dwellings, but not enough historical evidence for a definitive conclusion. At present, there are three reasonable possibilities.

 A: Some people believe that the caves were made by the Kumo Xi tribe, a minority that existed more than 1,000 years ago in the Five Dynasties Period (907 - 960). The once powerful Kumo Xi people betrayed the Khitan Empire that ruled northern China from 907 to 1125. They moved to the area around Yanqing, Beijing, made a large number of caves on the cliffs at Guyaju, and lived there for 30 years. Later they were chased out by the Khitan people and forced to go back to their hometown in northeast China, leaving behind their miraculous cave complex.

 B. Some experts think the whole project was a super large granary built by the government of the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907). Their perspective is based on the following reasons: First, it needs strict organization and discipline, a large number of iron tools and labor forces and also huge financial support to carve out so many orderly caves on the cliff. Obviously, common people would not have the capability to finish such a large project, so the caves were built by the government in all probability. Secondly, according to the location and situation of these caves, it is impossible to deposit valuables. The goods in the caves must be in large volume and cannot be buried underground. Grain is a reasonable guess. Finally, Yanqing was a garrison town during the Tang Dynasty, but no granary to store the supplies for troops has been found.

 C. Some archaeologists think that Guyaju was a site of garrison of the Han Dynasty (202 BC - 220 AD). An archeological team found a residual wall on top of the mountain. The wall extends 443 feet (135 meters) from the north to the south and 164 feet (50 meters) from the east to the west. The 10-feet-high (3-meter-high) wall is estimated to serve as the guard platform of a beacon tower. A pit of a cooking stove, a big grinding base and some flints were found near the site. To the east of the site there are some similar caves, which are considered as a whole with those in Guyaju. All the discoveries provide evidence for the statement that the caves might have been the accommodation for the station’s troops. Therefore, the original construction of the Guyaju Caves could be traced back 800 years earlier.

Transportation:

Take bus 919 or 919 Express from Deshengmen Station and get off at Yanqing Dongguan Station. Transfer to Y40 and get off at Guyaju Station. Y40 departs at 06:00, 08:00, 10:00, 13:00, 15:00 and 18:00.
 Beijing Bus / Subway Search
 
Admission Fee: CNY 55
Free for children under 3.9 feet (1.2 meters).
Opening Hours: May to October: 07:30 - 18:00
November to April: 08:00 - 17:00
The ticketing hours end half an hour before the closing time.

 Nearby Attractions:
  Badaling Great Wall
  Longqing Gorge
  Wild Duck Lake Wetland Nature Reserve
  Kangxi Grassland
  Song Mountain Nature Reserve
  Yudu Mountain

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