Around 35 kilometers north of Anyang, Xiuding Temple is set on the foot of Qingliang Mountain, surrounded by a beautiful mountainous landscape with scattered natural springs. Initially erected in 494, during Northern Wei Dynasty, it was first named as Tiancheng Temple. While being expanded during Northern Qi Dynasty it was renamed to Heshui Temple and it got its current name during reconstruction in Sui and Tang Dynasties.
The whole structure was arranged to face south and used consist of Tianwang Palace, Dafo Palace, Erfo Palace and Tiewa Palace. A pagoda was placed between Tianwang Palace and Tiewa Palace. Unfortunately most of the temple was destroyed during Qing Dynasty, only Xiuding Pagoda remaining up to date. Parts of the Pagoda’s decoration were stolen by antique dealers and imperialist officers before 1949. Pieces of artwork from Xiuding Temple are exhibited in Asian Art Museum of San Francisco in the United States.
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Although there are no official records of the time Xiuding Pagoda was built, inscriptions dating back to Tang, Song and Kin Dynasties, found on its walls, indicate it was erected before 870. However, archeologists are still confused about the exact period of its construction, with some of them claiming it was between 627 and 649 and others supporting it came later on, between 781 and 794.
Also known as Red Pagoda, because of its orangey color, the whole building is highly damaged, making it hard to imagine its exact original structure. However, it is believed that it consisted of three parts: the main body, which is a square pavilion-style structure, an octagonal base and the peak, which is now ruined but used to be in a dome shape very rare for pagodas in Tang Dynasty. The current structure has a total height of 16 meters. A bell house is assumed to have been added during Ming Dynasty, according to its architectural style. The bell house is now completely destroyed but photographs taken in the 1940s show that it was built in the shape of a lotus flower.
The entire surface of Xiuding Pagoda is elegantly decorated with a wide range of patterns. The octagonal base is incurved with designs of guards, musicians, flower and more. The main body, a 9 meter high square stupa, is fully covered with various carvings in a way that resembles huge curtains. Each block of the exterior surface is curved with 76 different images including lions, elephants, dragons, tigers, Taoist symbols, plants and flower, heavenly kings and guards. More than 3.700 such blocks in various geometrical shapes, such as diamond, triangle, pentangle and rectangle, have been used in the structure. Ornamental lines and curves complete the decoration which covers 300 square meters in total. It’s worth mentioning that such diversity of designs is highly uncommon in early Buddhist carvings and the whole decoration is considered to be an excellent sample of that period’s artwork.
An arch on the southern side of the building bears a carving of three seated Buddhas (one symbolizing the past, one the present and one the future), two Bodhisattvas and two heavenly kings. Inscriptions from Tang, Song and Kin Dynasties are placed underneath the Buddha carvings. A black dragon stands on the left side of the arch and a white tiger on the right. Both animals are popular motives in Chinese tradition. A beast maske is placed over the lintel. Pillars, placed on each corner of the main body, are sculptured with beautiful flower patterns.