Gigantic unfinished stele abandoned in an ancient Chinese quarry could provide the answer to the question how other megalithic stone blocks were made in other parts of the world…
The Yangshan Quarry is an ancient stone quarry near Nanjing, China. Used during many centuries as a source of stone for buildings and monuments of Nanjing, it is presently preserved as a historic site. The quarry is famous for the gigantic unfinished stele that was abandoned there during the reign of the Yongle Emperor in the early 15th century. In scope and ambition, the stele project is compared to other public works projects of Yongle era, which included the launching of the Treasure Fleet for the Zheng He expeditions and the construction of the Forbidden City in Beijing.
The stele base, partly separated from the body of the mountain
The unfinished base of the giant stele, with a hiker next to it for scale, located at the NE end of the southwestern pit of the Yangshan Quarry. One can see in the photos how the giant piece of rock has been parially separated from the mountain by digging under it.
The Monument Body (right) and the Monument Head (left), in Yangshan Quarry, Nanjing.
According to a legend, workers who failed to produce the daily quota of crushed rock of at least 33 sheng would be executed on the spot. In memory of the workers who died on the construction site—including those who died from overwork and disease—a nearby village became known as Fentou or “Grave Mound”. Ann Paludan translates the place name as “Death’s Head Valley”.
The Yangshan Quarry is situated on the Yangshan Mountain (elevation 140 m), also known as Yanmen Shan, northwest of Tangshan Town. The Yangshan is the main peak of the Kongshan Mountain Range. The site is located 15-20 km to the east from the eastern part of Nanjing City Wall and the Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum. Administratively, the area is in the Jiangning District of Nanjing City, Jiangsu Province.
An overall view of the quarry site from a walking trail. The stele base, center left; the stele body, and the stele head in front of it, near the horizon, a bit right of center
The Yangshan Quarry has been worked from the time of the Six Dynasties, the local limestone being used for construction of buildings, walls, and statues in and around Nanjing.
After Zhu Yuanzhang (the Hongwu Emperor) founded the Ming Dynasty in 1368, the city of Nanjing became the capital city of his empire. The Yangshan quarry became the main source of stone for the major construction projects that changed the face of Nanjing. In 1405, Hongwu’s son, the Yongle Emperor, ordered the cutting of a giant stele in this quarry, for use in the Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum of his deceased father.
In accordance with the usual design of a Chinese memorial stele, three separate pieces were being cut: the rectangular stele base (pedestal), the stele body, and the stele head (crown, to be decorated with a dragon design).
After most of the stone-cutting work had been done, the architects realized that moving stones that big from Yangshan to Ming Xiaoling, let alone installing them there in a proper way, would not be physically possible. As a result, the project was abandoned.
In place of the stele, a much smaller tablet (still, the largest in the Nanjing area), known as the Shengong Shengde (“Divine Merits and Godly Virtues”) Stele was installed in Ming Xiaoling’s “Square Pavilion” (Sifangcheng) in 1413.
The three unfinished stele components remain in Yangshan Quarry to this day, only partially separated from the living rock of the mountain. The present dimensions and the usual weight estimates of the steles are as follows:
- The Stele Base (32°04?03?N 119°00?00?E), 30.35 m long, 13 m thick, 16 m tall, 16,250 metric tons.
- The Stele Body (32°04?07?N 119°00?02?E), 49.4 m long (this would be the height, if the stele were to be properly installed), 10.7 m wide, 4.4 m thick, 8,799 tons.
- The Stele Head (32°04?06?N 119°00?02?E), 10.7 m tall, 20.3 m wide, 8.4 m thick, 6,118 tons.
According to experts, if the stele had been finished and put together, by installing the stele body installed vertically on the base, and topping with the stele head, then it would have stood 73 meters tall.
For comparison, the Shengong Shengde Stele actually installed in Ming Xiaoling is 8.78 m tall (6.7 m body + crown, on top of a 2.8 m tall tortoise pedestal).
The Song-Dynasty (early 12th century) Wan Ren Chou (“Ten Thousand Men’s Sorrow”) Stele in Qufu, which is thought to be one of the tallest in China, is 16.95 m tall, 3.75 m wide, 1.14 m thick.
In the centuries since the giant stele project was abandoned, a number of Ming, Qing, and modern authors visited the site and left accounts of it. The poet Yuan Mei (1716 – 1797) expressed his feelings in “The Song of Hongwu’s Great Stone Tablet”, which concludes with “ten thousand camels could not move it!” . The poem is published in his collection Xiao Cangshan Fang Wenji.
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Article Source: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
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