On the way to the Great Wall at Badaling, either by rail or by rood, tourists pass a large platform made of white marble. It is called Yuntai, or Cloud Terrace, and was originally a base for three pagodas, built across the road.
Over its more than six hundred years the pagoda base has experienced many disasters. The three pagodas were shaken to the ground during an earthquake at the end of the Yuan and beginning of the Ming dynasties. Later, a Buddhist temple was erected, but it was destroyed in 1443. Then a new temple, called Tai'an, was built on the old site, but it burned down in 1702. Since then, for more than 280 years, the base has stood alone.
Even though the base is now without pagodas, it occupies an important position in the development of a particular category of pagodas. It is in fact part of the earliest known, largest pagoda built across a rood with a definite date of construction. Most significant are the architectural workmanship, artistic carvings and inscriptions in six different languages on its marble surface.
Made of greenish-white marble, the base is 9.5 meters high, 26.84 meters wide from west to east and 17.57 meters from north to south. Around the top are stone balustrades and drainpipe dragon heads. A passageway from north to south is wide enough for carts and horses to pass through. The arched roof is like that on gateways in city walls since the Tang and Song dynasties. This style was replaced by a vault form after the Song and Yuan dynasties.
The surface at both ends and the inside walls of the passage are covered with exquisite relief carvings. They can be divided into two categories: illustrations of Buddhist stories and decorative patterns, and passages from Buddhist sutras and eulogies of donors to the construction of the pagodas. The six languages used in the inscriptions are Sanskrit, Tibetan, Phagspa (New Mongolian), Uigur, Han and Xixia. The use of languages of six different nationalities indicates the close and frequent cultural intercourse among the different nationalities during the Yuan Dynasty. The inscriptions are also important for the study of ancient languages.
From these inscriptions we have learned that the pagodas were built by order of Emperor Zhizheng from 1341 to 1345.