maandag 18 maart 2013

Japan, Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara

Nara was the capital of Japan from 710 to 784. During this period the framework of national government was consolidated and Nara enjoyed great prosperity, emerging as the fountainhead of Japanese culture. The city's historic monuments – Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines and the excavated remains of the great Imperial Palace – provide a vivid picture of life in the Japanese capital in the 8th century, a period of profound political and cultural change.





The Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara bear exceptional witness to the evolution of Japanese architecture and art as a result of cultural links with China and Korea, which were to have a profound influence on future developments. They vividly illustrate a critical period in the cultural and political development of Japan.
In 710 the capital of Japan was transferred from Fujiwara to Nara, which prospered as the political, economic and cultural centre of the country for the next 74 years, during the Nara period. The site of Heijô-kyô was carefully selected in accordance with Chinese geomantic principles. A grand city plan, based on Chinese examples such as Chang'an, was laid out, with palaces, Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines, public buildings, houses, and roads on an orthogonal grid. The palace itself, located at the northern end of the central avenue, occupied 120 ha. It comprised the official buildings where political and religious ceremonies took place, notably the Daigokuden (imperial audience hall) and Chôdô-in (state halls), and the imperial residence (Dairi), together with various compounds for administrative and other purposes.
In 784 the imperial capital moved to Nagaoka for nine years, and then to Kyoto (Heian), where it was to remain until 1184. The abandoned Nara capital became paddy fields. However, most of the temples and shrines survived intact; they maintained their high status and imperial patronage. A new town developed around them known as Nanto (South Capital). The temple area around Tôdai-ji, Kôfuku-ji, Gangô-ji and Kasuga-Taisha was particularly prosperous, and it was here that the modern city developed in the 16th century.
The Tôdai-ji consists of a group of buildings. The Kondô (Great Buddha Hall) houses the seated image of the Vairocana (Great) Buddha. It is a monumental seven-bay wooden structure, and the bronze statue is some 15 m high. The Kôfuku-ji, erected in Fujiwara, was rebuilt in Nara when the capital moved there in 710. The Gangô-ji was the first Buddhist temple in Japan, built by Soga-no-Umako in the 6th century and originally known as Asuka-dera. It was transferred from Asuka in 718 when the capital moved to Nara. Much of it was destroyed by fire in 1451.
The Tôshôdai-ji, originally built by the Chinese high priest Jian Zhen (Ganjin) in 759 for students of Buddhism, is unusual in having suffered very little from fire or other forms of disaster. Its main features are the Kondô (main hall, the only extant example built in the Nara period and very important in the study of Japanese temple architecture), Kôdô (lecture hall, originally a state assembly hall in the Nara Palace and the only surviving example of the architecture of the palace), Korô (sutra repository), and Hôzô and Kyôzô (two Nara repositories in 'log-house' style).
The Kasuga-Taisha: according to legend the Kasuga-Taisha (Kasuga Great Shrine) was founded in 768, but its origins are believed to go back to the beginning of the Nara period. It is located at the foot of two sacred mountains: Kasugayama and Mikasayama. The buildings of Kasuga-Taisha have been restored and reconstructed on many occasions following decay and destruction. The buildings are all within the shrine precinct and, according to tradition, are roofed with cypress-bark shingles, so as to harmonize with their natural environment.
The Kasugayama Primeval Forest: the natural environment is an integral element of all Shinto shrines. In the case of Kasuga-Taisha this is provided by Kasugayama, which has been preserved as a sacred forest. There is no form of human intervention beyond the provision of footpaths for worshippers and pilgrims.
The Nara Palace site contains all the elements necessary to meet the official and private requirements of the imperial family. These included the Daigokuden (imperial audience hall), Chôdô-in (state halls), Dairi (imperial residence), offices, workshops, stores, stables, etc. The compound was enclosed by earthen ramparts (Tsuji-ogaki) some 5 m high and crossed by 12 gates. The main entrance was the Suzaku Gate in the middle of the south wall, giving access to the Daigokuden and Chôdô-in, the most important buildings in the imperial complex, used for political ceremonies and banquets.
Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC



Historical Description

In 710 the capital of Japan was transferred by Empress Gemmei from Fujiwara to Nara, which prospered as the political, economic, and cultural centre of the country for the next 74 years, during what is known as the Nara Period. The site of Heijô-kyô was carefully selected in accordance with the Chinese geomantic principles governing the location of an imperial palace. A grand city plan, based on Chinese examples such as Chang'an, was laid out, with palaces, Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines, public buildings, houses, and roads on an orthogonal grid. It covered an area of 2500ha, and its population is estimated to have been around 100,000.
The palace itself, located at the northern end of the central avenue, occupied 120ha. It comprised the official buildings where political and religious ceremonies took place, notably the Daigokuden (imperial audience hall) and Chôdô-in (state halls), and the imperial residence (Dairi), together with various compounds for administrative and other purposes.
During this period an integrated imperial policy for the promotion of Buddhism was developed and applied from Nara. Emperor Shômu ordered temples and convents to be built in all the provinces, and built Tôdai-ji in 745 as the central provincial temple in Japan.
In 784 the imperial capital moved to Nagaoka for a mere nine years, and then to Kyoto (Heian), where it was to remain until 1184. The site of the abandoned Nara capital became paddy fields.. However, most of the temples and shrines survived intact; they maintained their high status and imperial patronage. As a result a new town developed around them which became known as Nanto (South Capital). The temple area around Tôdai-ji, Kôfuku-ji, Gangô-ji, and Kasuga- Taisha was particularly prosperous, and it was here that the modern city of Nara was to develop in the 16th century.
In 1180, however, Tôdai-ji and Kôfuku-ji were burnt to the ground in a period of internal strife. They were to be rebuilt soon afterwards, at the beginning of the Kamakura Shogunate (1185). Whilst Kôfuku-ji adopted the traditional Japanese Wayô style, however, Tôkai-ji was to be rebuilt in the Daibutsuyô (Great Buddha) style, introduced from Sung Dynasty China.
The Nara temples were to lose their prestige in the Muromachi Period (1333-1572). They suffered grievously from damage by fire: at Tôdai-ji, for example, the Tôtô (east pagoda), Kôdô (lecture hall), Sôbô (priests' living quarters), Kondô (Great Buddha Hall), Chûmon (middle gate), and Kairô (cloister) were all destroyed in different periods of unrest. Some buildings were reconstructed during the early Edo Period (1615-1867), with the assistance of the Shogunate. Although the Kondô was reduced to twothirds of its original floor area, it is still the largest extant wooden structure in the world.

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