The Iron Pagoda is located in the northeastern corner of Kaifeng. Erected strikingly in the Iron Pagoda Park, the structure is renowned as the best pagoda in China because of its construction and elegance. Actually the pagoda is not made of iron, but of brown, red, green and blue glazed bricks. Since its main hue is reddish brown, this pagoda looks like iron from far and therefore it has been called the Iron Pagoda for hundreds of years.
This Buddhist pagoda was built on the same location of a previous wooden pagoda (called Lingwei) that had been burnt down by lightning in 1044 CE during the Northern Song Dynasty. Five years after it was burnt down, the emperor ordered another one built on the same site but this time they used fire-resistant glazed bricks to build.
The predecessor of the Iron Pagoda was an octagonal, 13-storey wooden pagoda and it was once very famous but just for a short time. Along with the Liaodi, Pizhi, Beisi, Lingxiao, and Liuhe pagodas, it is seen as a protected masterpiece of Song Dynasty architecture.
It has been almost one thousand years since the Iron Pagoda was rebuilt and it remains firm despite torrential rains, fierce winds and earthquakes. When the Yellow River overflowed in 1841, the city of Kaifeng was flooded and this made the thousand-year-old Youguo temple collapsed but the towering pagoda survived and remained standing firm.
The Youguo temple itself was an important place that the emperors visited often. There was also an imperial examination center located at the temple that was used by students from all over the empire to take the exam.
Today, this octagonal-base structure stands at a height of 56 meters with a total of 13 stories. The windows, doors, brackets, bracket supports, pillars, balconies and pent roofs on its exterior are all modeled after the previous one and pieced together from 28 standard brick components.
Its outer walls, doors, windows, bracket supports and comer pillars are all composed of glazed bricks of various colors. There are more than 50 ornamental designs such as images of Buddha, flying apparatuses, Bodhisattvas, heavenly kings, lions, celestial guards, musicians and lotus flowers that are carved on those component parts. This also made the pagoda being the largest and oldest artifact of glazed bricks and tiles in China.
There is also a high stone Sumeru pedestal under its main body that has been buried by mud due to the flooding caused by overflowing Yellow River. Now the pagoda has doors on four sides but visitors can approach the building only by the steps on the north side. In 1961, the Iron pagoda is listed as one of the major historic and cultural sites under state protection.