The Three Pagodas are located about 1.5 km (0.9 miles) north of scenic Dali, Yunnan province. They are at the east foot of the tenth peak of the massive Cangshan Mountains and face the west shore of the Erhai Lake of the ancient Dali town. It is a symbol of the history of Dali City, and a record of the development of Buddhism in the area. The Three Pagodas are made of brick and covered with white mud. As its name implies, the Three Pagodas comprise three independent pagodas forming a symmetric triangle.
The main pagoda, known as Qianxun Pagoda, reportedly built during 824-840 AD during the Tang Dynasty, was 69.13 meters (230 feet) high and is supposed to be one of the highest pagodas in China's history. The pagoda is square shaped and composed of sixteen stories; each story has multiple tiers of upturned eaves. There is a carved shrine containing a white marble sitting Buddha statue at the center of each façade of every story. The body of the pagoda is hollow from the first to the eighth story, surrounded with 3.3 meters (10 feet) thick walls. In 1978, more than 700 Buddhist antiques, including sculptures made of gold, silver, wood or crystal and documents, were found in the body during a major repairing work. The designers of the pagoda are supposed to have come from Xi'an, the capital of Tang Dynasty at that time and the location of another pagoda, Giant Wild Goose Pagoda, which shares the similar style but is two hundred years older.
The other two sibling pagodas, built about one hundred years later, stand to the northwest and southwest of Qianxun Pagoda. They are 42.19 meters (140 feet) high. Different from Qianxun Pagoda, they are solid and octagonal with ten stories. The center of each side of every story is decorated with a shrine containing a Buddha statue.
The Three Pagodas are well known for their resilience; they have endured several man-made and natural catastrophes over more than a thousand years. The most recent record of severe earthquake in the Dali area occurred in 1925. Only one in a hundred of the buildings in Dali survived, but the Three Pagodas were undamaged.