Xishanpo (Chine): a Buddhist Monastery Ruin within the Royal City

Important Discovery at Upper-Capital site of Liao Dynasty: a Buddhist Monastery Ruin within the Royal City at Xishanpo Confirmed

Chinese Institute of Archaeology

Source - http://www.kaogu.cn/en/detail.asp?ProductID=3817

In order to make clear the layout and evolution of Liao Kingdom’s upper-capital, as well as to promote the conservation of the large site, an archaeological team made up of personnel from the Second Inner Mongolia Team of the Institute of Archaeology, CASS and Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology of Inner Mongolia has conducted an excavation to the Xishanpo site within the Royal City of Liao’s upper-capital, which is located in the Balin Left Banner in Inner Mongolia, from July to October 2012. Three architectural complexes in the north of the site, dubbed respectively YT1, YT2 and YT3, have been unclosed, yielding many important findings.



The Xishanpo site, a high ground in the southwest of the Royal City, contains three groups of buildings with the gates toward east. The north group consists of three round platforms, with the middle one, dubbed YT1, lying on the axis line and possessing the largest size. The south and north platforms in smaller sizes, dubbed respectively YT2 and YT3, are arranged symmetrically on the two side of the axis line.

The platform YT1 is a large foundation of a hexagonal brick structure circled with a wooden corridor. The remains consist of a foundation and an upper structure. The hexagonal foundation is made up of the rammed earth, the outer brick layer, the brick paved water apron, a side platform at the east and a passage at the west. On the foundation there are post bases, walls, white plaster fragments, stones, bricks and their traces. The layout of the building is well preserved. It has a hexagonal plane formed with three circles of posts and each side contains three rooms. The space within the central circle is built with bricks. The area between the central and the middle circles is used to be a corridor, while the outermost circle is supposed to support the overhanging roof. In the ruin many Buddhist statues, bronze coins and some inscribed stone pillars, ceramics, irons and bronze mirrors have been found.  There are also a large number of building materials like bricks and tiles. According to these findings, the platform YT1 could be a massive wood-brick Buddhist pagoda, which was constructed from Liao Dynasty and have been repaired in large scale at least two times. After Jin Dynasty it was gradually abandoned.


The platforms YT1 and YT2, located respectively at the south and the north side of YT1, are also proved to be hexagonal pagodas. The foundations and the underground caches remain. The central parts of the brick-covered hexagonal bases above the ground are serious destroyed. The underground caches, which are dug into the natural rock, have a plane like Chinese character 甲, consisting of a passage, a doorway and a palace.



As the largest scale excavation to Liao’s upper-capital since the founding of PRC, the excavation yielded abundant findings which could help to confirm the Xishanpo site to be a royal Buddhist monastery built from Liao Dynasty. It has an important location and a large size, and could be rated as one of landmarks in upper-capital. The layout of three pagodas, one large and two smaller, and arranged in a line, are the first found. The platform YT1 possesses a large size and very unique structure. It contains a great deal of clay Buddhist figures. Some of them are vividly shaped and fully applied with gold. Post bases bear locus and dragon-and-phoenix patterns. The construction components are mainly bricks which are found in very great number. All these are indicators of its size and rank. The excavation confirmed the content and function of the Xishanpo site, which undoubtedly are helpful to better understand the layout of the Royal City of upper-capital. It also provides invaluable materials for studying Liao Dynasty archaeology, history, Buddhism and architecture.      (Translator: Tong Tao)