Nara (World Heritage)

Although Nara was only an imperial residence in the 8th century, the city gave its name to the Nara period due to its significant architectural and artistic treasure. Temples and shrines document the first heyday of Buddhist art in Japan according to philosophynearby. An impressive example is the »Hall of the Great Buddha«, one of the largest wooden buildings in the world.

Nara: Facts

Official title: Architectural monuments and gardens of the imperial city of Nara
Cultural monument: Temple complexes such as Todai-ji, the temple of the Kegon sect with the Shunjo-do, the Nandai-mon (Great South Gate) and the bell tower as well as the Hort of Daibutsu-san (Hort of the Great Buddha), such as Kofuku-ji with the five- as well as three-storey pagodas (1143), such as Yakushi-ji, along with originally preserved three-storey pagodas, such as Toshodai-ji and Gango-ji, as well as Heijo, a palace complex, and Kasuga large shrine in the Kasuga-yama forest, which has been untouched for over 1000 years
Continent: Asia
Country: Japan
Location: Nara
Appointment: 1998
Meaning: Heijo-Kyo, the former capital of Japan, with significant buildings from the so-called Nara period

Nara: History

680 Foundation of the Yakushi-ji
710 Nara becomes the capital
718 “Relocation” of the Yakushi-ji to the current location
752 “Consecration” of Todai-ji
759 Foundation of the Toshodai-ji
784 Nara loses its status as the capital
794-1192 Kasuga shrine was completed in the Heian period
1180 Taira-no-Shigemori forces attack Todai-ji
1603-1868 Reconstruction of many structures of Todai-ji in the Edo period
1950-54 Restorations of the Gango-ji
1982 Completion of the West Pagoda of Yakushi-ji
1998 Open to the public after restoration of parts of the Heijo
2010 Renovation of Toshodai-ji Temple; Beginning of the construction of the main hall of the Kofuku-ji Temple, which should be completed in 2015

A bronze giant and sacred deer

It happened in April 752, and it must have been a gigantic spectacle: Ten thousand monks and nuns, even from China and India, had come, and the Empress and her entire court bowed humbly as the giant Buddha of Nara was solemnly consecrated. The so-called “eye opening ceremony”, the painting of the eyes and thus the “animation” of the statue, was accompanied by a mask procession and pompous festivities.

The assembled festival community registered with satisfaction that the bronze casting, which had failed seven times in the past twelve years, had succeeded on the eighth attempt to the satisfaction of all and that the 15-meter-high statue was finally upright. This monumental statue was cast from 450 tons of copper. According to a Japanese chronicler, this important work of art was bought with “sweat and tears” from almost 90,000 workers. The bronze “giant” was supposed to illustrate not only the importance of Buddhism, but also the power and size of the Japanese empire, whose capital had been Nara since the first decade of the 8th century.

Overall, Nara only served as the first continuous seat of government for three quarters of a century – before that, for cultic reasons, the capital was changed with each new emperor. In the relatively short “Nara period” not only Buddhism established itself, China, which was highly developed during the Tang dynasty, also had a decisive influence on Japanese culture and civilization, and large monasteries, centers of science and the arts emerged.

The imposing Buddha of Todai-ji, the “Great East Temple”, today one of the most visited tourist attractions in Japan, bears witness to this grandiose past. In addition, you come across pavilions and pagodas, temples and artistically designed ponds, gilded deities or stone warriors – examples of Asian architecture that touches us as graceful in its tendency towards balance.

Daibutsu is the largest bronze statue in the world: in the right nostril of this Buddha statue, tourist guides say, a Japanese gangster once hid for months. As impressive as it is in its sheer size: The original beauty of this figure, which was destroyed several times by earthquakes and conflagrations, can only be guessed at. The original is still preserved, however, the enchanting octagonal temple lantern, cast from bronze and decorated with many reliefs, which was created at the same time as the daibutsu and stands in front of the protective hall, probably the largest wooden structure in the world.

The Toshodai-ji, a temple founded by the Chinese priest Ganjin in the second half of the 8th century, testifies to the close relationship that existed between Japan and its large neighbor in the 8th century. The main hall of the complex, the Kondo, formerly part of the imperial palace, is considered the most important building of the Nara period. There is a statue of the pious founding father who was shipwrecked on the crossing to Japan and was subsequently blind. What makes this figure, who is only accessible to the public once a year, so touching is her urbane, inward-looking facial expression.

A path lined with 3,000 stone and bronze lanterns leads to the Kasuga large shrine, which stands out in the otherwise subtle earth-colored Nara with its radiant red. For centuries, believers have donated these lights, which are lit twice a year, in February and August. The complex was founded in the 8th century by the powerful Fujiwara family and is dedicated to the clan’s patron gods. The shrine’s messengers of the gods, hundreds of tame deer, cavort in the adjacent park. Whether one takes these “sacred animals” into one’s heart or rather perceives them as intrusive and annoying, depends on the particular constitution of the visitor.

Nara (World Heritage)