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Tianshui is the first big city you would have reached if you set out from Chang’an, the capital of China during the Tang Dynasty, and embarked upon the ancient Silk Road. The grottoes there are famous for their oriental beauty, and more interestingly, a love story.
The building of the Maiji Grotto dates back some 1,600 years, when China was split into empires fighting one another. Swathes of historic relics have been found here, including from the tragic romance of a queen.
|Queen Yifu’s Grotto excavated in Maiji Mountain|
Yifu had been a well-respected queen of West Wei, loved by her husband as well as her people. However, with the northern nomads waging wars on the border, the king decided to sacrifice their love for the peace of the nation and marry the princess of the neighbour in the north. Yifu was then sent to the Maiji Mountain and became a Buddhist nun.
In this, the No. 44 Grotto, sits the Buddha with clear female characteristics, smiling with loving eyes.
"The face of the Buddha is soft and gentle. It is often considered to be the Oriental Mona Lisa, only it is centuries earlier than that time," said Xia Junfeng from Maiji Grotto Research Agency.
The tragedy did not end there. The king secretly allowed Yifu to grow her hair and considered getting his beloved "ex-queen" back in to the palace, which irritated the new queen. Yifu was finally ordered to kill herself, as the new queen threatened to start another war.
In memory of the death of Yifu, her son built the grotto and buried her there.
"The cave is called the Elysium Palace. It is speculated to be the tomb of Queen Yifu, according to historical records. It looks like a tomb more than any other caves do," Xia Junfeng said.
There are also a lot of small Buddhas carved into the walls of the caves, smiling and whispering about the tragic historical romance.