The Songyue Temple Pagoda is the oldest extant large pagoda in China. Its structure and style are consummate among ancient pagodas. It was constructed in 520 during the Northern Dynasties.
The brick pagoda is the earliest multi-eave pagoda found so far. According to many books and records since the Hah and Wei dynasties, most pagodas were wooden multistoreyed structures, which were later replaced by brick and stone pagodas of the same style. The Songyue Temple Pagoda, as an early example of the transition, is invaluable. Both the main body and pedestal of the pagoda have twelve sides, making it the only such pagoda in the country.
The pagoda's total height is about 39.8 meters. The diameter of the ground floor is 10.6 meters, including the walls, which are each 2.5 meters thick. Except for the steeple and pedestal the entire pagoda is built of yellowish bricks held together by clay. The pedestal is low and plain. The first storey of the pagoda is very high, which is characteristic of all multi-eave pagodas. The first storey is divided into upper and lower parts by balconies, and there are doors on the eastern, southern, western and northern sides, linking the two parts. The top part of each door is an arch with an ornamental ogive above it. The other eight sides of the lower part of the first storey are plain, without ornament. The upper part, however, is the most decorated part of the entire pagoda. Besides the ornaments on the arches of the doors, there are niches on the other eight sides in the shape of square, one- storey, pavilion-style pagodas. The tops of the niches are carved in the shape of teapots or lions. On the twelve corners between the niches and doors pillars whose bases are in the shape of lotus flowers while their capitals are in the shape of pearls and lotus. Above the first storey are fifteen pent roofs so close to each other that it is hard for people to see the shape of the main body. On each side between the pent roofs is a small window and there are lattice windows on both sides of the doors of the niches. Some niche doors provide ventilation and light, while others are only ornaments and an indication of the division of storeys. The lattice windows are simply ornaments.
The stone steeple is distinctly divided into pedestal, main body and top. The Sumeru pedestal is in the shape of a lotus flower; the main body of seven discs is crowned by a huge bead. This type of steeple was widely adopted for multi-eave brick and stone pagodas.
The interior of the pagoda is cylindrical and there are eight levels of projecting stone supports for what originally must have been wooden flooring. The interior of the first storey has twelve sides, the same as the exterior, but from the second storey up there are only eight sides. Such changes in the interior design are common in stone and brick pagodas of later dynasties.
The exterior of the entire pagoda presents the contour of a smooth parabola, making it not only towering and magnificent, but also elegant and graceful, fully displaying the high artistic level of its design.