Monday, December 18, 2006

Protected Sites: Zhongjing City Site of Liao

The Zhongjing City Site of Liao is located in the alluvial plain on the north bank of the Laoha River in Daming City of Ningcheng County in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.
As one of the five capitals of the Liao Dynasty (916-1125), Zhongjing City was built from the 21st year (1003) to the 25th year of the Tonghe reign. With a Dadingfu (a government office) set up in the city, it was a place where emperors of Liao received envoys from the Song Dynasty (960-1279). After the Liao Dynasty was conquered, the Jin Dynasty (1115-1234) changed the name of the city into Beijinglu Dadingfu, which was then changed into Daninglu in the Yuan Dynasty. A sentry post was established in the early Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), and then dismantled and abandoned in the first year (1403) of the Yongle reign. Regional excavation team of Inner Mongolia carried out a series of archaeological excavations on the site during 1956-1960.

The city planning of Zhongjing City of Liao imitated that of Bianjing City of the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127), with three rings of cities, namely the outer city, the inner city and the imperial palace. Taking a rectangular shape, the outer city was 4,200 meters long from east to west, and 3,500 meters wide from south to north. A gate was open in the center of the south wall, with a small defensive town built outside the gate that had a turret in each of the four corners. From the south gate of the outer city, the Zhuxia Gate, to the south gate of the inner city, the Yangde Gate, the whole distance was about 1,400 meters, with a 64-meter-wide street lying in the center. On both sides of the street, two drains covered with wooden boards led to the stone culverts cut at the foot of the city wall on both sides of the Zhuxia Gate. A saddle-shaped mount protruded in the center of the street, about 500 meters to the Zhuxia Gate. It is believed that this mount is the remnant of a building. Along both sides of the central street were symmetrically distributed streets, of which 6 stretching from south to north and 10 from east to west, all about 4-15 meters wide. These streets cut the city into lanes where lived the Han people.

To the north of the outer city were sites of temples, posthouses and official bureaus. On the hillside in the northwest of the city scattered a number of temple sites. A multi-eave brick pagoda was built in the northeast corner of the south city, near the south wall of the inner city. Legend has it that it was a dagoba built in the Gansheng Temple, now known as Daming Temple, inside the Zhongjing City during the reign years of Emperor Zhongzong of Liao. Built on a 6-meter-high base, the octangular pagoda was 74 meters high with 13 floors. Seen from outside of the first layer, the front four sides of the pagoda were carved with figures of Buddha, Bodhisattva, Hercules and Flying Apsaras while the back four sides were divided into double layers, with the upper layer carved with the name of this pagoda and the lower layer with the name of the Bodhisattva. It was built with a simple and vigorous style that made it a masterpiece among architectures of the Liao Dynasty. To its southwest was another pagoda of 24 meters high, which known as Small Pagoda. Also an octagonal pagoda with 13 floors, it was believed to be built during the late Liao Dynasty or Jin Dynasty.

The inner city was built in the center of the outer city, a little to the north side. Taking a rectangular shape, the city was 2,000 meters long from east to west, and 1,500 meters wide from south to north. Inside the city was mainly open land. A 40-meter-wide street stretched from the Yangde Gate open in the center of the south wall to the Changhe Gate, the south gate of the imperial palace. About 85 meters south to the Changhe Gate, the street connected with a 15-meter-wide street stretching from east to west whose two ends turned north into the imperial palace.

The palace was built in the center of the north part of the inner city. The palace had a square shape, with each side about 1000 meters long. Taking the north wall of the inner city as its north wall, the palace had its own east, south and west walls. Watchtowers built at the south ends of the east and west walls still exist, while the sites of the south wall and the Changhe Gate cannot be found anymore. Two 15-meter-wide openings, believed to be the sites of side gates, were discovered 180 meters to the east and west sides of the Changhe Gate. Each gate had an 8-meter-wide street linking with the palace. On the axis line to the north of the Changhe Gate was a large-scale palace site. Inside both side gates were two hall sites.

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