Bao'en Monastery, Glazed Pagoda  報恩寺琉璃塔


  • Great Bao'en Pagoda (English)1
  • 大报恩塔 (Traditional Chinese)
  • 大报恩塔 (Simplified Chinese)
  • líulítǎ (Pinyin)
  • liu-li-t'a (Wade-Giles)
  • Great Bao'en Monastery Glazed Pagoda (English)
  • 大報恩寺琉璃塔 (Traditional Chinese)
  • 大恩寺琉璃塔 (Simplified Chinese)
  • Porcelain Pagoda (English)


  • Coordinates:
    • Lat. 32.011567° Long. 118.778468°
  • Building Information

    Completed at the same time as the Great Bao’en Monastery in 1428, the Ming dynasty Bao’en Monastery Pagoda was described as an architectural miracle of the Middle Ages (Jing and Hu 2002, 36). In the late Ming period, Zhang Dai (ca.1597-1679) discussed the Bao’en Pagoda in his book Tao’anmengyi《陶庵夢憶》, saying that “China’s great antiquity, and Yongle’s great kiln wares, that is the Bao’en Pagoda” 中國之大古董,永樂之大窯器,則報恩塔是也 (2007, digital version). Jinling fanchazhi《金陵梵剎志》also recorded that the nine-storied Bao’en Pagoda was between seventy-eight and seventy-nine feet tall. The plan of its body was octagonal, with four sides open and the other four having false windows on each floor. The openings on each floor shifted to a different direction to create an illusion of rotation (Han 2017, 13). Positioned on an approximately 4.5-meter-wide stone platform, the pagoda was constructed of brick and minimal timbers with glazed tile (liuliwa 琉璃瓦) ornament on the exterior (Han 2017, 13). Each floor used the same number of bricks for construction. However, the horizontal diameter of each story decreased from the lower level upward so that the height of each level increased and the pagoda has a tapered profile (Jing 2016, 55). At the base of the pagoda there were four large entrances with four glazed-tile arches decorated with delicately carved with dragons, human forms, and mythical beasts on the four cardinal directions. The other four other sides were ornamented with engraved images of the four Celestial Kings (Jing 2016, 55).

    The Bao’ensi Pagoda was destroyed in a fire outside Jubaomen 聚寶門 during the Taiping Rebellion in the early 1850s (Jing 2016, 58). The pagoda was the only completely reconstructed building of the current Nanjing Great Bao’en Monastery Site Park. It stands upon the original site of the Ming Great Bao’en Monastery’s pagoda to protect its historical foundation and the Underground Palace (digong 地宮). While using modern technology for the construction, the new pagoda pays homage to the old Bao’en Pagoda at all levels of the design, reinterpreting the soul of the ancient structure (Han 2017, 13). For the base of the pagoda, the architects based their design in the historical Bao’en Pagoda’s eight-sided feature and were inspired by the geometric logic of the smallest square pagoda foundation that can be obtained by extending each side of the perfect octagon of the pagoda body. This design is capable of protecting all the historical ruins enclosed by the square foundation and a covered gallery (fujiezhouza 副階周匝) around the base of the ancient pagoda and at the same time effectively connecting the upper octagonal structure. Based on this concept, the structural engineers designed the bottom of the new pagoda as a “fubo 覆鉢” that is an inverted basin (a term used to describe the hemispherical shape of the Indic stupa). Grounded in the four corners of the square pagoda base and spanning above the site, four groups of steel diagonal beams were used to buttress the body of the pagoda and transfer the load outside the historical site (Han 2017, 13).

    The exterior of the pagoda was made of "liuli" and covered with gilded Buddha statues as Zhang Dai described, “There are hundreds of billions of gilded statues of jingang on the pagoda. One gilded statue is supported by dozens of glazed bricks ” 塔上下金剛像千百億金身。一金身,琉璃磚十數塊湊砌成之 (2007, digital version). Liuli 琉璃 (variously understood as glass, crystal, lapus lazuli, or ceramic glaze) is not only an important and precious decorative material to traditional Chinese architecture but also one of the seven Buddhist treasures that can dispel calamities and evil spirits. Its Buddhist meaning and value therefore suit the Bao’en Pagoda in this royal monastery (Ru and Di 2019, 97-98). A total of 152 gold bells hung on the corner beams (jiaoliang 角梁) on each story to create and spread solemn ringing sounds in the city. In the interior of the Bao’en Pagoda, there are teal-colored sunken panels (zaojing 藻井) on each floor and the inner wall is covered with Buddhist niches (fokan 佛龕). From the second through the ninth stories there is story a (pingzuo 平座) platform with vermilion liuli railings. Each layer of cladding tiles and the arches are attached with green liuli components in forms of flying sheep, horses and elephants and a variety of Buddhist figures (Jing 2016, 55).

    The simple outline of the new Bao’en Pagoda is consistent with the octagonal Ming dynasty original and the inner core consists of two rotating and staggering squares that form a lotus blossom. Following the vertical plan of the old pagoda, the modern one contains eight sides and nine stories that form three vertical registers. The outer walls, originally enclosing the building, were transformed into an open corridor made out of plexiglass wing-panels for people to circumambulate the structure and view the city. Additionally, the "ultra-white glass" (chaobai boli 超白玻璃) used for the main body of the pagoda utilized an innovative technology, rongse suxing boli 熔色塑型玻璃, to reflect an outline of the Ming dynasty Bao’ensi Pagoda from different angles. The new base structure of the pagoda also expands the space on the ground floor so that it can not only protect and display the historical foundation of the pagoda and the extant ruins of the underground palace, but can also accommodate up to 200 visitors to pay homage to the holy relics (Han 2017, 14).

    Although the new Bao’en Pagoda abandons the traditional glazed ceramic craftsmanship on the outside, it fulfills another function of historic architecture, that is, to protect the thousand-year-old underground palace and the sacred objects originally contained therein. Just as the builders in Ming Dynasty used cutting-edge technology and craftsmanship of the time to construct the glazed pagoda, modern architects are using the most advanced technology and aesthetics of this age to rebuild the pagoda to preserve our cultural heritage, as well as the Buddhist spirit coursing through the architecture (Han 2017, 14).

    Dynasty Ming 1368-1644 2

    Works Cited

    Any information without attribution has been created following the editorial guidelines.

    • 1 ZHUGE. 2016B. From Historical Monument to New 'Urban Spectacle': Case study on the Great BaoEn Pagoda Reconstruction Project in Nanjing, China, 117.Link to Zotero Bibliographic Record
    • 2 WILKINSON. 2000. Chinese History: A Manual, 12.Link to Zotero Bibliographic Record

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    How to Cite This Entry

    ZOU Yuyang 鄒宇洋 et al., “Bao'en Monastery, Glazed Pagoda 報恩寺琉璃塔 ” in Architectura Sinica last modified April 28, 2021,


    ZOU Yuyang 鄒宇洋 et al., “Bao'en Monastery, Glazed Pagoda 報恩寺琉璃塔 .” In Architectura Sinica, edited by Tracy Miller. Entry published April 27, 2021.

    About this Entry

    Entry Title: Bao'en Monastery, Glazed Pagoda 報恩寺琉璃塔

    Authorial and Editorial Responsibility:

    • Tracy Miller, editor, Architectura Sinica
    • ZOU Yuyang 鄒宇洋 and Tracy Miller, entry contributors, “Bao'en Monastery, Glazed Pagoda 報恩寺琉璃塔

    Additional Credit:

    • Initial research 2021 by ZOU Yuyang 鄒宇洋
    • Website coordination by Yuh-Fen Benda

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