Legend has it that the city of Kaifeng was once saved by the erection of a towering pagoda over a rushing water fountain. This fountain sat at one end of an underground waterway connecting Kaifeng to the remote sea. Without the pagoda, it was believed, the waters from the sea would flood the city causing untold destruction. Since the time of this origin story, the ancient pagoda has undergone significant renovations. Once built of wood, lightning destroyed the original pagoda in 1055 AD. It was then that the current glazed brown brick and tile structure was built. Bearing a striking resemblance to iron, the tower thus acquired its moniker, the Iron Pagoda.
Standing at over 55 meters tall, the Iron Pagoda is a significant achievement of 11th century architecture. The Pagoda's 13 stories begin at a width of 4.2 meters and gradually shrink in diameter as it rises into the sky. From the time of its second construction, the Iron Pagoda has continued to survive whatever nature could throw at it, including the notorious antagonist of buildings, the earthquake. The Pagoda's profound resilience has earned it the reputation of being "earthquake proof," quite an achievement for a thousand year old tower.
As beautiful as it is strong, the Iron Pagoda is admired for the over 50 different design patterns that grace its surface. Most notably, observers will find depictions of flying spirits (called "feitian") and legendary unicorns (called "qilin"), as well as images of Buddhas, dancers, lions and other figures. At its top, a bronze pearl rests in the shape of a calabash. This feature, especially from a distance, makes the Pagoda resemble a monk wearing a hat. Another unique feature is the design of the Iron Pagoda's windows. On each floor, several windows can be found but only one that can be opened. This single open window provides a different vantage point from each floor, giving visitors distinct perspectives on the city of Kaifeng and the Yellow River.Moreover, known for its delicately designed potted chrysanthemums, the Iron Pagoda Park plays host as the main exhibit site for the Chrysanthemum Exhibition.
Historically, the original wooden pagoda was built in the Fubao courtyard of the Kaibao Buddhist Temple. A shrine to Buddhas and bodhisattvas, the Pagoda contains the preserved remains of King Asoka, one of India'sgreat emperors. In the Pagoda are shrines to the Amita-Buddha and the white Jade Buddha, which is a monument to the friendship between the Buddhists of China and Burma.