The Baiheliang Underwater Museum, Fuling, Chongqing Municipality, China
The Baiheliang, literally the White Crane Ridge, is an archaeological site in Fuling, China, now submerged under the waters of the newly built Three Gorges Dam. It displays some of the world’s oldest hydrological inscriptions, recording 1,200 years of changes in the water level of the Yangtze River in the north of the Fuling District of the Chongqing Municipality. The stone ridge is 1,600 meters long and 15 meters wide. It reaches 138 meters at its peak height and is now submerged under 43 meters water, with the completion of the Three Gorges Dam Project. The Baiheliang museum has opened on 18 May 2009.
Before the Three Gorges Dam was built, the rock ridge was submerged in summer and autumn. Every 3 to 5 years during winter, when the water level of the Yangtze dropped, the ridge and its carvings were exposed. The stone fish figures and rare inscriptions recording water-level changes, harvests, positions and titles from the Tang Dynasty (618-907) onwards could then be seen. The cultural importance of these inscriptions was always regarded as high, as the sighting of the carvings promised a good harvest. They include poems in calligraphic writing, three Bodhisattva carvings, 18 fishes and a crane. The inscriptions have also been of importance to predict the water level changes to be expected for the Three Gorges Dam construction.
Since 1994, China's departments for the protection of cultural heritage have undertaken research on the conservation of the stone inscriptions of Baiheliang. After the consideration of several proposals, it was decided to transform the site into an underwater museum.
The ridge has now been covered by an arch-shaped glass covering, a no-pressure container, filled with purified water. It ensures that the pressure inside and outside of the arch is the same. In addition, two underwater channels with very long escalators have been built from the riverbanks, enabling visitors to descend and view the stone inscriptions illuminated by more than 10,000 LED lamps through 24 double-glass protection windows. Due to budgetary and technological constraints, the container is only 70 meters long and 25 meters wide, however, it provides access to the most precious stone inscriptions of the eastern section of Baiheliang ridge. Measures have been taken to protect several inscriptions in the remaining western section. A layer of protective chemical material has been applied to the inscriptions before they were sealed with a reinforcing steel bar, cement and mortar.
Planned since 1994, begun in 2002, the construction of the underwater museum has cost some 28 million US Dollars. The leading architect was Ge Xiurun from the Institute of Rock and Soil Mechanics, of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS). The steel construction under water weighs some 45 tons.
The museum construction is a fabulous first-world-wide example of the presentation of underwater cultural heritage in situ reachable by the non-diving visitor.
Baiheliang Underwater Museum :
Address: Bingjiang Road, Fuling district, Chongqing, P.R.China
Opening hours: 9am - 5:30pm
Information Brochure on The Baiheliang Underwater Museum by its architect Ge Xiurun: