Datong is famous for two things: its coal mines and its magnificent historical relics. It is a center of economic importance due to its abundance of coal and its modern industrialization. The city was the capital of the Northern Wei and Jurchen Jin dynasties, revealing its long history of strategic importance.
This long history has blessed the city with some great attractions, the principle being the Hengshan Hanging Temple. Located at the base of Mount Heng, the monastery is a remarkable feat of engineering, perched 50 meters above the ground on a sheer cliff face. Bridges and boardwalks link the six main halls of the monastery, allowing visitors to soak up the view from high up the cliff face. The monastery is also unique in that it combines three of China’s great scholarly and philosophical traditions: Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism.
Not far from the Hanging Temple (65 kilometers south of Datong city main) is Yingxian Wooden Pagoda. Built by the Khitan Liao Dynasty in 1056, the pagoda is famed for surviving numerous earthquakes and a barrage of bullets from Japanese invaders in World War II, making it the oldest surviving fully wooden pagoda in China.
The Yungang Grottoes, one of China’s famous Buddhist cave complexes, is described by UNESCO as a "masterpiece of early Chinese Buddhist cave art... [representative of] the successful fusion of Buddhist religious symbolic art from south and central Asia with Chinese cultural traditions, starting in the 5th century CE under Imperial auspices." Situated to the west of Datong, the complex stretches over 1 kilometer and consists of hundreds of remarkable sculptures and paintings.
Datong has many more temples, walls and a museum that all warrant a visit. The city tells a story of long-lasting multiculturalism with its southeast Asian Buddhist influences, Khitan, Jurchen and Mongolian occupancy, and of course, Chinese Han culture.