The pagodas were built for two main reasons. First, they were holy structures that invoked the Buddha's protection against the frequent disasters of floods and earthquakes. Secondly, the pagodas were used as a storehouse for scriptures and precious objects.
Between Cangshan Mountain and Erhai Lake, the Three Pagodas stand like the legs of a huge tripod. Qianxun Pagoda, the main one, is square-shaped with closed eaves similar to Xiaoyan Pagoda in Xi'an. It has 16 tiers with a total height of 69.13 meters, and is in a typical architectural style of the Tang Dynasty. At the basement of the pagoda are engraved four Chinese Characters "YONG ZHEN SHAN CHUAN" (meaning everlasting sovereignty and peace) in the handwriting of Mu Shijie, grandson of Mu Ying, the Senior Duke of Qian of the Ming Dynasty. It was first built in the era of Fengyou Emperor of Nanzhao Kingdoms about the same time of the Tang Dynasty. On the south and north sides of the main pagoda stand two smaller ones of octagonal shape with dosed eaves. Each one has 10 tiers with a height of 43 meters. On the top of each pagoda, there are three copper-made calabashes, each connected with an umbrella shaped bronze bell. They were constructed during the period of the Five Dynasty (907-906), slightly later than the main one. The cover of Qianxun Pagoda is white-washed. On each story, there are four shines. There are Buddhist sculpture on the east and west shrines. The other two shrines are the windows for the pagoda. There are wood beams inside the pagoda. Along stairs inside, one can reach the top. There are four corners on the summit. Each corner hangs a golden wing bird cast by copper. Legend has it that these birds have spell on the demons in Erhai Lake. On the summit of the pagoda, there are also metal pagoda top, pagoda cover, pagoda peak and a golden cock. On the base of the pagoda, there is a epigraph: The Ruler of Mountains and Rivers. There are pillars at very corner and platform on each story. On the fourth and sixth floor, there are embossed, and golden were there, so splendid.
There is a lake named Reflection (Juying Chi) behind them. The lake is known to be able to reflect images of the Three Pagodas.
Three Pogadas' mother building was known as Chongsheng Monastery and used to be the royal temple of the Kingdom of Dali and one of the largest Buddhist centers in south-east Asia. It was originally built at the same time as the first pagoda but was destroyed in a fire in the Qing Dynasty reign period. The temple was later rebuilt in 2005. It was recorded that Qianxun Pagoda had been split in an earthquake on May 6th, 1515 AD in Ming Dynasty. However, it miraculously recovered ten days later in an aftershock. The most recent record of severe earthquake in the Dali area occurred in 1925. Only one in a hundred of the buildings in Dali survived, but the Three Pagodas were undamaged
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