Built in 686 (during the reign of Empress Wu Zetian), Kaiyuan Temple is located on West Street in Quanzhou City. The entire complex covers an area of over 19 acres. Through past restorations, it has now become a fairly complete set of courtyard galleries. As the largest Buddhist temple in Fujian Province, Kaiyuan Temple has attracted many domestic and foreign travelers who are interested in Buddhist culture.
Most of the temple's architecture has special artistic features of the Tang (618-907), the Song (960-1279), the Yuan (1271-1368), the Ming (1368-1644), and the Qing (1644-1911) Dynasties. Major buildings in Kaiyuan Temple include Tianwang Hall, Daxiong Palace, the Sweet Dew Temple, the Sutra Depository, and Gongde Tang. Two long corridors and two stone towers date from the Song Dynasty (960-1279). In addition, many cultural relics are kept in the temple.
In front of Kaiyuan Temple are two imposing stone towers. The east one is called Zhenguo Tower and stands 158 feet high, while the west one is called Renshou Tower and stands 145 feet high. This pair of towers is the highest stone towers in China. Due to their uniqueness, they are regarded as a special landmark of Quanzhou City. On every floor of each tower, lifelike carvings of arhats and knights can be seen around the niches, on the walls, and on the eaves.
Among the main buildings, visitors first enter Tianwang Hall, where they will see two statues of Tianwang (King of the Sky). At the back of the hall, there is a long corridor displaying various kinds of stone towers and furnaces.
Lying behind Tianwang Hall is Daxiong Palace, the main body of Kaiyuan Temple. It is 66 feet high and covers an area of 1,196 square yards. Inside are 34 figures of the Buddha, 24 statues of angels, and 86 columns. Originally, there were 100 columns in the palace, so Daxiong Palace was also named Baizhu (one hundred poles) Palace. Viewing these works of art, visitors will be surprised at the superb techniques of sculpture. On the base of the palace 172 images of a Sphinx are carved in bluestone. In the corridor at the back of the palace, two steles in Brahmanism style are carved with fairy tales from India and Ceylon.
Coming out of Tianwang Hall, visitors will see the Sweet Dew Temple. Along with the Beijing Jietan Temple and the Hangzhou Zhaoqing Temple, it has one of the three largest altars in China. The Sweet Dew Temple has five floors and many Gods are worshiped here, such as Sakyamuni, Amitabha, and Kwan-yin.
The Sutra Depository has a collection of tens of thousands of sutra, among which are more than 20 rare and valuable ones from the Song Dynasty (960-1279). Under the depository is a showroom of ancient bells in which a dozen copper and iron bells from past dynasties are exhibited. To the west of the File Cabinet is the Hall of Virtue. The statue of the temple founder -- Buddhist Kuang Hu -- sits in the hall to greet visitors. Around the back, visitors will find two corridors about 197 feet long, pointing to east and west. From the corridors, visitors can see the Kwan-yin Cabinet, the Dizang Cabinet, the LiuZu Hall, and the Hall of the Abbot.
Most of the local people in Quanzhou believe in Buddhism. Kaiyuan Temple is a must for visitors to learn the local culture. After exploring the entire complex, visitors will surely appreciate the Buddhist culture exemplified by the Kaiyuan Temple.
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