The Three Pagodas are located at the foot of Yingle Peak of Cangshan Mountain at the northwest suburb of Dali Ancient City. In the time of Nanzhao and Dali Kingdoms, Chongshengsi was the largest monastery in this area and the Three Pagodas were only a part of it. Now, the monastery has long disappeared and only the Three Pagodas remain.
Between Cangshan Mountain and Erhai Lake, the Three Pagodas stand like the legs of a huge tripod. Qianxun Pagoda, the main one, is square-shaped with closed eaves similar to Xiaoyan Pagoda in Xi’an. It has 16 tiers with a total height of 69.13 metres, and is in a typical architectural style of the Tang Dynasty. At the basement of the pagoda are engraved four Chinese Characters “YONG ZHEN SHAN CHUAN” (meaning everlasting sovereignty and peace) in the handwriting of Mu Shijie, grandson of Mu Ying, the Senior Duke of Qian of the Ming Dynasty. It was first built in the era of Fengyou Emperor of Nanzhao Kingdoms about the same time of the Tang Dynasty. On the south and north sides of the main pagoda stand two smaller ones of octagonal shape with dosed eaves. Each one has 10 tiers with a height of 43 metres. On the top of each pagoda, there are three copper-made calabashes, each connected with an umbrella shaped bronze bell. They were constructed during the period of the Five Dynasty (907-906), slightly later than the main one. The cover of Qianxun Pagoda is white-washed. On each story, there are four shines. There are Buddhist sculpture on the east and west shrines. The other two shrines are the windows for the pagoda. There are wood beams inside the pagoda. Along stairs inside, one can reach the top. There are four corners on the summit. Each corner hangs a golden wing bird cast by copper. Legend has it that these birds have spell on the demons in Erhai Lake. On the summit of the pagoda, there are also metal pagoda top, pagoda cover, pagoda peak and a golden cock. On the base of the pagoda, there is a epigraph: The Ruler of Mountains and Rivers. There are pillars at very corner and platform on each story. On the fourth and sixth floor, there are embossed, and golden were there, so splendid.
During the renovation in 1979, more than 600 pieces of cultural relics were discovered, including hand-written Buddhist scriptures, books, engraved bronze plates, bronze mirrors, statues of Buddha made of gold, silver, bronze, iron, porcelain, jade, and quartz, and medicinal herbs. Up to now, they constitute the largest store of relics of Nanshao and Dali Kingdoms ever found, providing sure proofs of the influence of the Han culture upon minority nationalities in the border areas.
The bell tower behind the Three Pagodas was set up in 1997. A jianji Bell hangs from the upper part of the building. It sounds louder when one taps on it with mighty power. One can hear the voice from the other world. This is one of 16 famous scene in Dali — The Bell Shapes the Capital of Buddhist.
Weathering through the storms and earthquakes in the past to 10 centuries and more, the Three Pagodas still elegantly stand there. They are the symbols of outstanding architectural technology, the wisdom of the ancient labouring people and the brilliant culture of Dali.
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