|Location:||Zhang Jia Jie / Zhangjiajie, western Hunan Province. 8km from the city center.|
|Classification:||Karst cave natural bridge.|
|Dimension:||H=131.50m, W=57m, L=60m, A=1,520m asl.|
|Address:||Tianmen Dong, Tel: +86-, Fax: +86-,|
|As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
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|263||cave opened by a collapse.|
|11-DEC-1999||Guiness Book of Records challenge cave flight.|
|OCT-2002||first Chinese naked poetry happening in the cave.|
|17-MAR-2006||the Russian Knights fly through the cave.|
Tianmen Dong (Tianmen Cave) is somewhere between an arch and a through cave, but although it is generally called a cave, we classify it as a natural bridge. A huge opening in the steep cliff face of Mount Tianmen (1,518m asl), which is 130m high and about 30m wide. It crosses a part of the mountain, a rock with vertical walls, which is about 70m thick, which results in a cave length of 60m, about half its height. This fits the definition of an arch or natural bridge. Tianmen translates Gate to Heaven, which is also the name of an infamous place in Peking, on which students were attacked by tanks. However, despite the name those two places are not connected.
Tianmen Dong became world famous, when a group of stunt pilots crossed it first by plane in 1999. It was an attempt to become listed in the Guiness Book of Records for the first time a cave was crossed by plane. The flight was sent on TV and watched by 800 Million people around the world. Another flight through the cave was made by the Russian Knights, five Russian SU-27 fighter jets which crossed the cave in 2006.
Really exceptional is the history of this cave. The impressive collapse of the cliff face, which opened the cave, is documented. It happened in the sixth year of the Wuyong Period of the Three Kingdoms, which is the year 263. At this time the mountain was called Songliang, which was then changed to Tianmen.
Tianmen Mountain is a part of the cockpit karst around the Yangtze River. It is an enormous karst tower, with steep walls and a small plateau on top, about 1,500m asl and covered by an intact sub-primitive forest. The typical karst landscape, with limestone rocks covered by a very thin layer of earth, in combination with the local climate, create a natural bonsai garden. At the foot is the 10,000m² Tianmen mountain temple, the Buddhist center of western Hunan, a center of pilgrimage since the Ming Dynasty. The collapse of the mountain with the opening of the cave in 263 AD is one of the so-called six unresolved mysteries.
The natural bridge is a famous tourist destination. A series of 999 stairs leads up to the arch, so it is actually rather easy to visit. The arch is accessible by the Tianmen Mountain Cableway, said to be the longest passenger cableway in the world. It is 7,200m long and ascends 1,277m. There was also a road built up to the cave but this cave is closed to the public. It was obviously very difficult to build this road up the steep gorge, and it is an impressive sight from the cable car, with its numerous hairpin curves.