Datong Travel Guide
Datong (Chinese: 大同; pinyin: Dàtóng; Wade-Giles: Ta-t'ung) is a prefecture-level city in the northern Shanxi Province in China, located a few hundred kilometres west by rail from Beijing with an elevation of 1090 meters. It has a population of approximately 3.11 million.
The town was founded as Píngchéng (平城) in 200 BC during the Han Dynasty, after the Battle of Baideng between the Han and the Xiongnu. Located near the Great Wall Pass to Inner Mongolia. It blossomed during the following period and became a stop-off point for Camel Caravans moving from China into Mongolia and beyond. It was sacked at the end of the Eastern Han Dynasty. Pingcheng became the capital of Northern Wei from 398 AD until 494 AD. The famous Yungang Grottoes (云冈石窟 Yúngāng Shíkū) were constructed during the later part of this period (460 – 494 AD).
The city was renamed Datong in 1048 AD and sacked again at the end of the Ming Dynasty (1649 AD), but promptly rebuilt in 1652 AD.
The Yungang Grottoes, or Cloud Ridge Caves (云冈石窟 Yúngāng Shíkū)are a collection of shallow caves located 16 km west of Datong. There are over 50,000 carved images and statues of Buddhas and bodhisattvas within these grottoes, ranging from 4 centimeters to 7 meters tall. Most of these icons are around 1000 years old.
Within the city itself, there are a few surviving sites of historical interest such as the Nine Dragon Screen (九龙壁 Jiǔ Lóng Bì), the Huayan Monastery(华严寺 Huá Yán Sì), and the Shanhua Temple(善化寺 Shàn Huà Sì). Further afield is the Hanging Temple (悬空寺 Xuán Kōng Sì) built into a cliff face near Mount Heng. Most of the historical sites in this region date to the Tang and Ming dynasties, but the Hanging Temple dates to the Northern Wei dynasty (386-534).
The railway locomotive works (see below) began to attract increasing numbers of railway enthusiasts from the 1970s. When construction of steam locomotives was phased out, the authorities did not want to lose this valuable tourism market, and pondered the possibility of developing a steam railway operating centre as an attraction. A number of study visits were undertaken to the East Lancashire Railway at Bury, and a twinning arrangement was concluded with that town.