Mati Temple Caves

The Mati Temple Caves are located in Linsong Mountain on the west bank of the Mati River in Yugur Autonomous County of Sunan at the foot of the Qilian Mountains, about 65 kilometers south of Zhangye City.

Matisi Temple Caves Scenic Area is one large cave group consisting of 7 small cave groups stretching 30 kilometers. The caves can be divided into the north temple, south temple, thousand buddha cave, golden pagoda temple, upper/middle/lower Avalokitesvara caves, etc. Each part is away from another one by less than 10km. Because the mountain was formed by coarse red sandstone which was not suitable for carving, most of the caves are clay sculptures.

The Mati Temple Caves magnificently expresses the spread of Buddhism through the Silk Road to Chinese territory and was one of the first sites in which monks from outside settled to preach Buddhism. Legend has it that once a sacred horse left its footprint on a rock here, so Mati Temple (also called Horse Hoof Temple, Mati in Chinese means Horse Hoof) got its name. There is no official record proving the exact time when Mati Temple was built. However, large numbers of poets have portrayed Mati Temple in their great works, and the earliest one could date back to Eastern Jin Dynasty (A.D. 317 – 402). Because of its long history, Mati Temple, together with Mogao Caves in Dunhuang and Yulin Caves in Anxi, is regarded as the Three Artistic Treasured Caves of Hexi Buddha Holy Land.

Although less known than other similar sites, the Mati Temple Caves nevertheless remain a unique sanctuary witnessing more than 1,000 years of devotion to the Buddha through sculptures and paintings. Inside the caves are preserved more than 500 Buddha statues, as well as 1,200 m² of frescoes well hidden behind the wooden facades of the temple, hanging on the cliff.

Going upstairs, you have a nice view of the surrounding plains and the mountains on the horizon. The spirituality that amplifies the place is then fully expressed and we understand why this place was chosen for the worship of the Buddha during the journeys on the Silk Road.

The surroundings of Mati Temple are beautiful. If visitors have enough time, There are some good hiking routes around Mati Temple recommended, such as the 5-hour round-walk that takes in Linsong waterfall and Jianpishi (“sword split” stone). Alternatively, you can rent a horse instead of feet walking.

Besides, the Mati Temple Scenic Area is distinguished for the Yugur People, which is a unique minority group in Gansu Province, living at the foot of the snow-covered Qilian Mountain. They are the descendants of a nomadic tribe that originally lived in Mongolia. Visitors can stay in the tent of the Yugu people, enjoying the pure chang and the delicious big chunks of stewed lamb and experiencing the unique living style and the cultural characteristics in this area. The Yugur people are famous for their folk songs, dances, and beautifully embroidered clothing.

The best time to visit the Mati Temple caves is during the summer months between May and October.

Useful Information

Chinese Name: 马蹄寺石窟
Location: 65 km south of Zhangye city
Opening hours: 08h00-18h00
Ticket: 73 RMB/person
Recommended length of visit: 3 hours

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