Treasured Discovery

The mysterious Grottoes of Flower Mountain

By: Christopher Batin

This is the first Image
Inside a chamber in the Flower Mountain
grottoes, carved out by hand
over 1,700 years ago.
One of China’s greatest mysteries isn’t in a book or behind museum doors, but exists underground.

The Grottoes of Flower Mountain, formerly known as Huashan Mysterious Grottoes, are located in Tunxi. Since their discovery in 1999, the grottoes have perplexed researchers because of their size and the lack of historic records for the creation or purpose of these grottoes.

Researchers have dated the grottoes to be at least 1,700 years old, yet there is also no evidence of how the tons of excavated rock was used, or where it was deposited. Over the last eight years, researchers have cataloged 36 grottoes along the mountainous and forested banks of the Xin’an River. Only two Number 2 and Number 35 are currently open to the public.

I walked the path across a suspension bridge, up a tower walkway and down into the cavernous opening of the first grotto, which resembled the open, snarling mouth of a tiger. The quiet of the cave and wisps of fog gave an eerie mystery to the room.

The grottoes are smooth walled, as if sanded by machine. Upon closer examination, each one was carved by hand and chiseled out of mountain bedrock. Cavernous rooms ablaze from colored spot lamps connected to smaller rooms, above and below, each wall depicting an event or telling a story. One wall was covered with tree fossils, while the other was striated with chisel marks. I walked the pathway between rooms and drank in with wonder the purpose of this subterranean palace or mini city.

Grotto 35 was strikingly similar, yet had its own personality of room sizes and pillars supporting the mountain roof. The air was refreshingly warm, even with the cool winter weather outside. I took plenty of time to review the painted pottery and ancient tools found in the grottoes and on display in glass cases, along with running my hands over ancient chisel marks that lined up symmetrically in the rock walls.

The cavernous grotto has walls 75 feet high and measures 36,000 square feet with 26 stone pillars supporting the domed ceilings. My interpreters said speculation for their purpose included a storehouse for salt, an imperial tomb not realized or the center of a prehistoric civilization, but neither the Chinese government nor Tsinghua University researchers know the answer.

Wang Yingfan, China’s representative to the United Nations, visited the area several years ago and predicted the grottoes would become as famous as the Terra-Cotta Warriors and China’s Great Wall, once researchers fully discover its many hidden secrets and history. This makes it a must-see for tourists now, before the area becomes too overly developed.

China International Travel Service (CITS) and wholesale tour operators run daily tours to these grottoes. A standard tour takes several hours, and is a good half-day tour to take upon arrival in the area.


Anhui Provincial Tourism Association