Songshan, One of the Five Sacred Mountains

On the edge of the Funiu Mountain Range in Henan(Honan) Province stands one of China’s Five Sacred Mountain, Songshan. A climb to the summit, “ Steepest Peak”, stars from Laojun Pass, continues over Single Plank Bridge, through the Southern Heavenly GAte and up the Path of Eighteen Bends. At an altitude of 1500 meters one can see the vast expanse of the fertile central plain below and the 72 peaks of Songshan all around. Their names, Peaks of Three Cranes, Peak of Purple Clouds, Peak of White Silk, can only begin to describe their Middle Sky Pond whose waters come from a bubbling spring. To the east is the Imperial Fortress, a dense wood occasionally accented by strangely shaped rock formations. Just beyond the Fortress is a precipitous drop.

Magnificent ancient building dot the landscape. On one slope, in the Temple of Songshan, is the oldest pagoda found in China. Built during the Northern Wei dynasty over 1400 years ago, it is more than forty meters high with a base circumference of 33 meters. While actually 12-sided in with lime. On the walls are carvings in relief of figures, flowers and birds. Now designated a historical monument it is truly a wondrous work of architecture.

The Temple of the Central Mountain is situated at the eastern foothill of Mt. Songshan. One of the earlieat Taoist temples in China, it was first built in the early Han dynasty about two thousand years ago. During the subsequent dynasties it ws expanded and reconstructed many times. Its seven compounds with ancient cyprus trees occupy a total area of more than one hundred thousand square meters. The best preserved of its various halls is the Great Hall of the Central Mountain, reconstructed during the Ming dynasty(1368-1644). Its golden glazed tiles dazzle in the sunshine. Its beams and pillars are beautifully carved and painted. Its Imperial Study within the hall was a retreat for the emperors of feudal dynasties where they could rest and reflect upon their tours of Mt. Songshan.

Gaocheng Observatory, in the southeastern foothills of Songshan, is one of China’s earliest observatories. It was built in 1279 during the Yuan dynasty. Guo Shoujing, its designer, was a famous astronomer and mathematician of the period. Emperor Yuan Di assigned him the task of revising the calendar and Guo based his work upon astronomical observations. Three years were spent making 13 instruments for that purpose. Twenty-seven observatories were constructed throughout the country. Gaocheng was the center of this activity. The structure is a square brick tower, nine meters high, topped by an observation parapet. On the basis of the data gathered here and elsewhere, Guo Shaojing and his colleagues formulated an almanac. Written three hundred years earlier than the calendar presently in use, the length of the tropical year was caculated to within 26 seconds of the actual time required for a complete revolution of the Earth around the Sun.