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
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