Review of Tianmen Mountain and Its Heavenly Gate
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Review of Tianmen Mountain and Its Heavenly Gate

The feature known as Heavenly Gate in Tianmen Mountain National Forest Park in the Hunan province of central China is revered locally by the citizens of its closest city of Zhangjiajie for the 999 steps to reach the summit. The man-made steps carry visitors up to a hole in the mountain caused by erosion; this was thought of by Taoist monks to be the entrance to heaven.

Tianmen Mountain is the highest peak of the Wuling range of mountains and is located just 8 kilometres or 5 miles south of the city of Zhangjiajie. To the north of the city is Wulingyuan Scenic Area, this is a site of interest recognized by UNESCO. Tianmen Mountain is thought of by the city’s residents as being that city’s soul. The limestone mountain features jagged peaks and sheer cliffs, the mountains to the north at Wulingyuan are of sandstone and do not feature the harsh features as seen at Tianmen.

The area around Tianmen Mountain is covered with thick lush vegetation; the often thick and lingering mists that exist there aid this plant growth. The mountain has a cultural past stretching back to ancient times and is viewed as being a national symbol for both religious reasons as well as its secular history. Historically it has been frequented over the years by poets, artists, monks, sages and even emperors.

During the dynasty of the Northern Zhou (557-588) the first visit by an emperor was made to the mountain. Taoist monks built their temples during the period of the Northern Dynasties that lasted from 386 until the end of the Northern and Southern Dynasties period in 588. The only temples in existence today are of the Buddhist faith.

The staircase of stone or celestial ladder begins at the base of the mountain and takes those willing to climb the steep traverse up the 999 steps to a cave. The number ‘9’ has significance in Taoist beliefs and the roadway that carries visitors from the city of Zhangjiajie to the base of the stone staircase has 99 curves or bends as it climbs its way up the lower slopes of the mountain. The number ‘9’ was believed by Taoists since the earliest days of the faiths existence to have been reserved for the emperor as he was believed to be the manifestation upon earth of God.

Although the mountain is a major tourist attraction for the local area the only site of interest culturally is Tianmenshan Si or Heavenly Gate Mountain Temple. Back down in the valley is Tianmen Academy; originally it was built between 1297 and 1307 as an institute of higher learning. The original building was destroyed in a 1352 war, only being rebuilt in the last century and used now as a high school. The academy houses a copy of an inscription reputedly made by Emperor Borjigin Temur. He succeeded Emperor Borjigin Kublai, better known as Kublai Khan, the grandson of Genghis Khan.

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Comments (8)

Impressive and insightful historical account. Thanks friend

Fascinating especially about the number 9...voted

Excellent info, as always, John!!! xoxoxo Voted & Tweeted!

Sounds like a beautiful, impressive place. Voted and tweeted.

You must have been everywhere, John!

Always interesting and fun to read your articles.


Sounds almost mystical! Excellent article.