Farmers’ Caves (Yaodong) in Yan’an

Why is Farmers’ Caves (Yaodong) so Special?

Farmers’ Caves(Yaodong) is an ancient dwelling form of residents on the loess plateau in northwest China. The history of farmers’ Caves can be traced back to more than 4,000 years ago. This dwellings are widely distributed in Shanxi, Shaanxi, Henan, Hebei, Inner Mongolia, Gansu and Ningxia provinces on the loess plateau. Among them, the caves in Shaanxi province, especially in Northern Shaanxi like Yan’an and Yulin, are unique travel attractions. According to official statistics, there are still 40 million people living in such dwellings in China. With a very unique local folk culture and ethnic customs, Yan ‘an farmers’ cave is one of the traditional folk dwellings in Shaanxi province. The caves are divided into earth cave, brick cave and stone cave. Stone caves are very durable and made of stone or brick.

Long History of Farmers’ Caves (Yaodong)

As early as the Neolithic Age新石器时代 (about 18,000 years ago),  clans living in the lower and middle reaches of the Yellow River built simple shallow holes in natural pits in the mountains, using wood frames, grass and soil. Then, more than 4,000 years ago, real caves began to be built, which can be attributed to the natural environment. In these areas where houses are popular, there is a very thick layer of yellow soil. People make full use of the yellow soil layer to create the primitive farmers’ caves. This kind of dwelling house was originally built on the cliff of loess plateau, which is a typical cave dwelling culture. Living in caves is a custom passed down from generation to generation. Nowadays, some hotels even become places where tourists enjoy modern facilities.

Types of Farmers’ Caves (Yaodong)

Earth Cave

Earth ones are usually cut into the side of a mountain cliff. You can still see them at Wangjiaping, Yangjialing and Date Garden (枣园) areas in Yan’an, Shaanxi. In these residences furnitures are very simple, such as a wooden table, wooden chairs, an earth sleeping platform (炕) and other farmers’ things.

Brick Cave and Stone Cave

Brick and stone cave dwellings are the most common in rural areas of northern Shaanxi. Integral frame uses masonry structure, the frame of door and window is woodiness or aluminium alloy structure more.

People will also add different patterns or statues like two pigeons to the front top of the residential houses when altering the roof, so as to make houses more delicate and modern. There is also a combination of caves, built primarily of clay, but with stone or brick at the front.

Features of  Architecture

The most important and unique characteristic of a Yaodong is that it is cool in summer and warm in winter inside. Generally, the temperature in the room remains between 10C(50F) to 22C (72F) and the relative humidity is 30% – 75%. Comfortable temperatures and humidity help keep residents healthy to a certain extent. Natural architectural features protect residents from environmental or weather changes. In addition, it is built without damaging the environment or encroaching on farmland.Another feature is that you will feel quite quiet inside.

A cave is usually 6-8 meters (around 20-26 feet) long, around 3 meters (9.8 feet) wide and around 3 meters (9.8 feet) high. From the outside, it appears in the shape of an arc, which presents the ancient opinion of “Heaven is round and ground is square(天圆地方)”. It has a semicircle rough stone door and exquisite window frame, the sash bars on the window frame resembles the rib of fan, it is the most beautiful, the most delicate part that the family decorates with folk paper cut sometimes.

In Yan’an of Northern Shaanxi, a family usually has 3 to 5 caves. The middle one is the main residence, in which the grandparents or parents live. At the bottom right of each cave, people usually leave a small horizontal pass for their pets, such as cats or dogs, to go through. There is a traditional taboo that none of the caves should be in line with the gate when constructing the gate for the whole yard. Otherwise, bad luck may fall upon this family.

How to get to Farmers’ Caves in Yan’an

Travel with ChinaDragonTours (top recommended)

If you want to get out of the traffic and hassle of navigation, you can book a private tour package that includes visiting, dining and transfer from us. Our local guide and driver will escort you to the Yan’an caves in the fastest and most convenient way and take care of all the details. You just have to focus on the visiting.

For independent travelers

If you are  from abroad or other places, you can go to Yan’an by plane, high speed rail or train, maybe the plane is the fastest and most convenient choice.

Useful Tips

  • Yan ‘an, located in northern China, is hot in summer, so tourists should take precautions to protect themselves from the sun. Winter is dry and cold, so visitors need to keep warm.
  • The Yan ‘an Yaodong is warm in winter and cool in summer inside, so tourists can visit all year round.