Located to the west of Datong City, Huayan Temple was one of the important temples for the Huayan Sect (one of the seven important Buddhist sects of China) during China’s Liao Dynasty (916 – 1125) the sect found receptive popularity among the imperial courts. The original buildings served in part as the imperial ancestral temples but were destroyed in a fire. Rebuilt 1122 on a large scale with several extensions added during the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644) giving us the present complex.
Unlike other temple architecture in China, in which the main halls and buildings are north-south axis, with the facade facing towards the south, the temple constructions in the Huayan Temple are on an east-west axis with the main halls facing to the east. This was due to the Qidan, (a minority tribe living on the northern border of China who built the Liao Dynasty,) whose tradition of praying for the Divinity of the Sun to the east, thus taking East as superior to everything.
The temple complex is divided into two parts, namely the Upper Huayan and Lower Huayan, both of which respectively have its own mountain gate and temple layout. The Upper Huayan, featured with a range of gorgeously decorated buildings, among which, Daxiong Baodian is the main hall. With an area of 1,600 square meters (14,400 square feet), the hall stands imperially throughout ages and boasts to be one of the largest of its kind in China.
All sorts of color-clay statues of Five Buddha and twenty Buddha’s warrior attendants are housed in the hall. The ceiling of the hall, intricately decorated with a variety of color-murals of dragons and phoenix, floras, Sanskrit Buddhist symbols and other geometric patterns, creates a rich visual feast for the eye. Twenty-one huge color paintings from the Qing Dynasty (1368 – 1644) on the interior wall are well preserved.
To the southeast of the Upper Huayan is its Lower counterpart, in which the Datong Museum is located. Compared to the splendid Upper Huayan, the Lower one is of a far more solemn appearance. The Sutra Preserving Hall in the latter part of the complex is where a collection of over 18,000 Buddhist sutra volumes and scripts are preserved. In addition, five finely carved wood-structured pavilions in the latter part of the hall are connected by arched bridges. These exquisite wood carved structures are the only remaining examples of their kind in China.