Advertised by Time Magazine as one of the world's Top 10 Most Precarious Buildings, the Hanging Temple (Xuan Kong Si) is another one of Datong's 1,500-year-old treasures and one of the most photographed sights of Northern China. This is an absolutely breathtaking spectacle that every visitor to Datong should see, though perhaps not everyone could summon the courage to enter.
Constructed at roughly the same time as the Yungang Grottoes, the Hanging Temple is a brilliant piece of medieval engineering from the 5th Century. To the awed observer underneath, the temple seems to be supported dangerously by a few lanky wooden poles jabbed vertically into the already near-vertical cliff side. If you still can't imagine, think of an apple pie fastened to the side of your fridge by a few toothpicks underneath.
Except the toothpick-thin support was a rather late addition only 600 years ago, and could be removed entirely without throwing the temple and its army of tourists down the treacherous cliff. Ancient engineers ingeniously reinforced the structure through a system of crossbeams inserted right into the rock face, safely securing it against earthquakes and cliff erosion for the past millennium and a half. Even Li Bai, China's most famous poet, gave his approval over a thousand years ago with an oversized work of calligraphy that is now engraved at the bottom of the cliff.