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The town was founded as Píngchéng (平城) in 200 BC during the Han Dynasty. Located near the Great Wall Pass to Inner Mongolia it blossomed during the following period and became a stop-off point for Camel Caravans moving from China into Mongolia and beyond. It was sacked at the end of the Eastern Han Dynasty. Pingcheng became the capital of Northern Wei from 398 AD until 494 AD. The famous Yungang Grottoes (雲崗石窟\云岗石窟 Yúngǎng Shíkù) were constructed during the later part of this period (460–494 AD).
The city was renamed Datong in 1048 AD and sacked again at the end of the Ming Dynasty (1649 AD), but promptly rebuilt in 1652 AD.
The Yungang Grottoes are a collection of shallow caves located 16 km west of Datong. There are over 50,000 carved images and statues of Buddhas and Boddhisatvas within these grootes, ranging from 4 centimeters to 7 meters tall. Most of these icons are around 1000 years old.
Within the city itself, there are a few surviving sites of historical interest such as the Nine Dragon Screen (九龍壁\九龙壁 jiǔlóng bì）, the Huayan Monastery（華嚴寺\华严寺 huáyán sì）, and the Shanhua Monastery（善化寺 shànhuà sì). Further afield is the Hanging Temple (懸空寺\悬空寺 xuánkong sì) built into a cliff face near Mount Heng. Most of the historical sites in this region date to the Tang and Ming dynasties, but the Hanging Temple dates to the Northern Wei dynasty (386-534).