Story and photos by Manos Angelakis
In ancient times Luoyang was a glorious city and is considered one of the starting points for Chinese civilization. It was one of the 5 Great Imperial Capitals of China, and the easternmost hub of the Silk Road -- the long trade route that connected Europe and the Near East with the Far East and the Chinese Empire. The Silk Road was the route traveled by Marco Polo, his father and uncle and myriads of other traders in long caravans starting on the Eastern Mediterranean coast in what are now Syria, Israel and Jordan, in search of trade goods like silk, porcelain and spices to be sold at high prices to the aristocracies in the capitals of Europe.
Luoyang was the capital for 13 dynasties; with palaces for more than 100 emperors. The Eastern Zhou dynasty, from 510BCE to 314BCE was the first dynasty to call Luoyang its capital; then the Eastern Han dynasty, the second Imperial dynasty, from 25CE to 196CE. The Three Kingdoms (220CE to 280CE) was China between the states of Wei, Shu, and Wu. It started with the dissolution of the Han dynasty and was followed by the Jin dynasty. The Western Jin dynasty, from 265CE to 311CE, also called Luoyang its capital and so did the Northern Wei dynasty from 493CE to 534CE. Finally came the Later Tang dynasty, during the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period and the Later Liang dynasty that was the one that moved the capital to nearby Kaifeng.
Luoyang is in the center of the central plains, the Middle Kingdom’s middle. The yellow wheat fields lying beneath bright blue skies we saw suggest that early inhabitants were wise to sow here rather than in the southeast, where many of modern China’s economic hubs are nowadays situated. In a 14th-century historical novel, Luoyang was depicted as the center of Imperial authority populated by scheming officials. But when warlord Dong Zhou is forced to flee, he set the city on fire. Luoyang went up in flames several times, most recently when the invading Japanese torched the city in 1944 during the Battle of Henan.
Today, Luoyang is mostly known as an important regional tourism center near the Longmen Grottoes, an archeological setting by the confluence of the Li and Yellow Rivers studded with carved Buddha statues, and a major Chinese and international tourism site.
The images were carved as exterior rock reliefs and inside artificial caves excavated from the cliffs of the Xiangshan and Longmenshan mountains by Buddhist monks that made the caves their monastic cells. There are as many as 100,000 statues within the 2,345 caves, ranging from 1 inch to 57 feet in height. The area also contains nearly 2,500 stelae and inscriptions as well as over sixty Buddhist pagodas. In 2000 the area became part of the UNESCO World Heritage Sights as “an outstanding manifestation of human artistic creativity”.
Across the river, on a tree-covered hillside, one sees what was purported to be Chiang Kai-shek’s summer residence, according to one of our guides. According to official maps it is a Buddhist Temple. Whatever it is, it is a delightful classic Chinese building that somehow fits perfectly to the site’s ambience.
A point of interest is the myriads of electric scooters and cycles jamming the streets of Luoyang. I was told that the scooters, motorcycles and small trucks that were used by China’s working and middle classes were considered “culturally incorrect” as well as “environmentally unfriendly” by the local governments when the standard of living became high enough and fuel emissions from these gas or diesel fueled vehicles filled the atmosphere. Therefore, everyone was encouraged to upgrade to electric conveyances and, in many of the parking lots of the hotels, museums and shopping areas, free charging stations were installed to accommodate these vehicles.
Another “must see” place is Luoyang’s National Peony Garden, the home to more than 1,000 varieties of peony and main research center for peony cultivation in the world. The peony is China’s national flower and we saw both natural and artificial peonies featured at every reception of the upscale hotels we stayed as well as the banquet halls. The Garden is a major sightseeing venue during the annual peony festival.
Thanks to: Mr. Bing Sun www.orientdestinations.com
China National Tourist Office, New York www.cnto.org
Henan Provincial Tourism Administration
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