the Yungang Grottoes in Datong, north China's Shanxi Province.

The Yungang Grottoes, the more than 1,500-year-old UNESCO World Cultural Heritage, continued to shine amid the COVID-19 pandemic following a visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday.

Located in Datong, North China’s Shanxi Province, the Yungang Grottoes were built along a section of the ancient Silk Road during the Northern Wei Dynasty (386-534). The site boasts a total of 45 main caves with more than 59,000 statues.

It is considered the pinnacle of Buddhist cave art in China as well as a historical monument to the fusion of Chinese and Western cultures during the fifth century AD, representing the highest level of sculpture in the world.

The Dunhuang Grottoes in Northwest China’s Gansu Province, Longmen Grottoes in Central China’s Henan Province and Yungang Grottoes are the three largest grottoes in China. However, while the statues at Dunhuang were made using gravel and the ones at Longmen used stone, both stone and gravel were the main materials used in the Yungang Grottoes, which allowed the artists to achieve a higher level of detail in their Buddhist statues, Zhang Zhuo, dean of the Yungang Grottoes Academy, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

Covering some 3.2 square kilometers, the scenic spot has continued to expand over the years and now incorporates more than 10 museums and art galleries related to Yungang culture that were built on site to further enrich visitor experience, Zhang said.

Tourist numbers and revenue has continued to increase by 10 percent annually since the site first opened to the public.

The news that Xi visited the Yungang Grottoes ignited the interest of Chinese netizens, who took to China’s Twitter-like Sina Weibo to express their interest in the site.

During the visit, Xi called Yungang Grottoes a “treasure of human civilization,” and emphasized that the world heritage site needed to be protected.

According to Zhang, the team at the Yungang Grottoes is currently working on increasing its cultural exports to the world.

He noted that a controversy once occurred between China and Japan concerning academic research about the grottoes. Japanese scholars had published a series of books about the site during the 1990s, which they used to apply for an international peace prize, which outraged many Chinese research fellows. In response, Chinese scholars and experts spent seven years completing their own series of comprehensive books that explored each cave in more detail.

Meanwhile, in December 2019, the academy signed an agreement of cooperation for protection with the authorities of the Angkor Wat cultural heritage site in Cambodia, which marked a solid step forward for the Yungang Grottoes in the field of foreign exchange and cooperation.

Zhang added the next step for the academy is to focus on the repairs to the grottoes and exploring ways to showcase the spot to the public through a combination of online and offline visits.

Together with many other scenic spots, the Yungang Grottoes was shut down from January 25 to March 1 due to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus. During that time, it launched online experiences so people could experience the site from the comfort of their homes, which have attracted visitors in hundreds of thousands.

(In association with Global Times)