Songyue Pagoda: China’s Oldest Brick Buddhist Pagoda and the Only Dodecagonal Pagoda

Songyue Pagoda, or Songyue Temple Pagoda, is located at the southern hillside of Mt. Song, about 5km to the northwest of Dengfeng County of Henan Province. It is China’s oldest brick Buddhist pagoda with dense eaves and is the only dodecagonal pagoda. Songyue Pagoda is a good example of the early attempts to merge the Chinese straight-edged architectural form with the circular style of Buddhism from the Indian subcontinent.

Songyue Pagoda

Songyue Pagoda, located in the Songyue Temple, was originally built in 523 during the Northern Wei Dynasty. With a history of more than 1,400 years, the pagoda is the only existing construction of the original temple nowadays while other buildings, including the Entrance Gate, Grand Hall, Qielan Hall and Baiyi Hall, were all reconstructed during the Qing Dynasty.

Songyue Temple Pagoda

The pagoda of 15-storey is a over 40 meters high. Except for the steeple and pedestal, the entire pagoda is built of yellowish bricks held together by clay. Built at a time when almost all others were of wood, the Songyue Pagoda is invaluable as an early example of the transition. Both the main body and pedestal of the pagoda have twelve sides, making it the only such pagoda in the country.

Songyue Pagoda-3

The Songyue Pagoda is famous not only for its unique shape but also for its beautiful contour. The pagoda has a low, plain brick pedestal, and a very high first storey which is characteristic of all multi-eave pagodas. The first storey is divided into upper and lower parts, the rich ornamental upper part and plain lower sections. Above the first storey there are 15-layered eaves, with each layer linked closely together. The perimeters of the pagoda decrease as it rises. The exterior of the entire pagoda is in the shape of parabolic curve with clear and smooth lines, making it not only towering and magnificent, but also elegant and graceful, fully displaying the high artistic level of its design.

Songyue Pagoda-2

The interior of the pagoda is cylindrical and there are eight levels of projecting stone supports for what originally must have been wooden flooring. The interior of the first storey has twelve sides, the same as the exterior, but from the second storey up there are only eight sides. Such changes in the interior design are common in stone and brick pagodas of later dynasties.

The stone steeple is distinctly divided into pedestal, main body and top. The pedestal is in the shape of a lotus flower; the main body of seven discs is crowned by a huge bead. This type of steeple was widely adopted for multi-eave brick and stone pagodas.

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