China // Sichuan and Chongqing //


DAZU (大足, dàzú) is a small, quiet place whose centre forms a 700m-wide rectangle along the north bank of the mild Laixi River. The east side of the rectangle is Longzhong Lu, the north side Beihuan Zhong Lu, and the west side Bei Jie. Buses from Dazu’s station leave twice an hour until around 4pm and take thirty minutes for the 16km run to the most notable sculptures are at Baoding Shan (宝顶山, băodĭng shān), 16km to the northeast. The project was the life work of the monk Zhao Zhifeng, who raised the money and designed and oversaw the carving between 1179 and 1245, explaining the unusually cohesive nature of the ten thousand images depicted here. What makes these carvings so special is not their scale – they cover very small areas compared with better-known sites at Luoyang or Dunhuang – but their quality, state of preservation, and variety of subject and style. Some are small, others huge, many are brightly painted and form comic-strip-like narratives, their characters portraying religious, moral and historical tales. While most are set fairly deeply into rockfaces or are protected by galleries, all can be viewed in natural light, and are connected by walkways and paths.