Dunhuang, Province Gansu.
Dunhuang is an oasis town in Chinese Central Asia west of Xian, a former capital of China.
APR to NOV daily 8-18.
DEC to MAR daily 9-17:30.
APR to NOV:
Adults CNY 238.
DEC to MAR Adults CNY 140.
|Classification:||Cave Church, Painted Cave Buddhist cave temples in sandstone|
|Guided tours:||self guided|
|Photography:||cameras not allowed|
Roderick Whitfield, Susan Whitfield, Neville Agnew (2001):
Cave Temples of Mogao,
Art and History on the Silk Road,
Conservation and Cultural Heritage Series, Getty Trust Pubn, ISBN: 0892365854. (January 2001), paperback, 144 pages.
|Address:||Dunhuang Mogao Caves|
|As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.
|111 BC||the town was founded by Emperor Wudi of the Han dynasty.|
|366||the start of the carving of the caves.|
|1900||discovery of the Library Cave.|
|1987||inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.|
|1989||the Getty Conservation Institute (GCI) and the Dunhuang Academy study and steward the caves.|
|2009||conservation of Cave 85 completed.|
莫高窟 (Mogao Caves) are artificial caves in the Singing Sand Mountain, the cliffs above the Dachuan River, south-east of the Dunhuang oasis. All in all there are 492 caverns with a total length of 1,600 m presently preserved. Most of the caves have three or four levels, the biggest ones have up to 9 levels and extend from the foot to the top of the mountain. The 16 biggest caves have a size of 268 m² each. The site is said to be the largest, most richly endowed, and longest used Buddhist temple in the world. It is known under numerous names, most commonly Mogao Caves, the Chinese often add the location so it becomes Dunhuang Mogao Caves. It is also called Thousand Buddha Grottoes or Caves of the Thousand Buddhas, which is unfortunately a very common name and there is a Thousand Buddha Grotto at most other temple sites in China. Sometimes they are called Dunhuang Caves. Mogao is actually a simplified version of the name Mogaoku, which means peerless. As there are other Mogao Caves, we decided to use the name "Dunhuang Mogao Caves" throughout showcaves.com.
In 366 a monk named Yuezun had a vision of a thousand radiant Buddhas on the cliff face. This inspired him to begin excavating the caves.
The caves contain about 45,000 m² of murals and 2,415 painted clay figures. They show the illustrations of Buddhist sutra, Jataka (very popular stories of former lives of Buddha), venerable images, and donors. Beneath religious pictures there are also numerous pictures of daily life. They show vivid scenes of cultural exchanges along the Silk Road, medieval politics, economics, culture, arts, ethnic relations, and daily dress in western China. There are Han Chinese artistic tradition and styles mixed with the art of ancient India, Gandhara, Turk, Tibetan and Chinese ethnic minorities. Dunhuang Mogao was one of the places where Buddhism reached China, via a stream of monks and merchants who moved north and east from India along the Silk Road. As a result it was a melting pot of cultures, linked China, Central Asia, and Europe. The texts discovered here Confucian, Daoist, and Christian. They were written in multiple languages including Chinese, Sanskrit, Tibetan, Hebrew, and Turkish.
Dunhuang or Tun-huang is an isolated desert oasis which was inhabited by Buddhists for about 1,000 years. They dug a series of caves and decorated them with a vibrant array of wall frescoes and sculptures. At this time Dunhuang was at the western frontier of the powerful Chinese empire. The Silk Road made the oasis an important trading post. After the collapse of the silk road trade the area depopulated, but fortunately the caves and its paintings have been preserved by the dry climate. On the other side the sand of the desert is eroding the outside parts and facades of the caves. It is one of many threats to the caves,
The Silk Road fell into disuse by the 15th century, for centuries Mogao was abandoned. Many cave entrances were choked by sand from the Gobi Desert. In the 1890s a Daoist monk named Wang Yuanlu found the place and appointed himself guardian of the caves. In 1900, he opened one of the sealed caves and found a stash of manuscripts, for which the cave was named the Library Cave. It contained nearly 50,000 ancient manuscripts and relics and was acclaimed as the world’s greatest discovery of ancient Oriental culture. Accounting ledgers, contracts, medical texts, dictionaries, and even descriptions of music, dance, and games were among the finds. Silk banners and paintings, fine silk embroideries and other rare textiles dating from the 10th century were also found. Exceptional is the earliest wood block-printed text, the Diamond Sutra, the earliest completely printed book dated to the year 868. The text is a Chinese translation from Sanskrit of a highly regarded Buddhist sutra.
The reasons why the cave was sealed is unknown, this was obviously done intentionally. Unfortunately he found the cave too early. Shortly after his discovery, many of the objects from the cave were acquired by explorers and archaeologists. And the wars of the early 20th century are responsible for the destruction of many artifacts, which would have survived it the cave was never found. The eraliest printed book is today part of the collection of the British Library. Many manuscripts and other objects from the Library Cave can be viewed online at the International Dunhuang Project, based at the British Library (see link below).
Cave 302 contains scenes of cultural exchanges along the Silk Road, depicting a camel pulling a cart typical of trade missions of that period. Caves 23 and 156 show workers in the fields and a line of warriors. Cave 61 contains an early example of artistic Chinese cartography, showing the celebrated landscape of Mount Wutai in all details. The Library Cave (Cave 17) is open to visitors, but obviously all the manuscripts have been removed.
Mogao is a major tourist draw. The are crowds of tourists during the season, so it is a good idea to visit off season or book a day trip, which makes sure you get tickets. There are several other cave temple sites of comparable importance in the province which are much less visited.