Shanghai Blog

Dunhuang Mogao Grottoes

Visited the famous buddhist Mogao grottoes of Dunhuang, an world heritage culture site located along the ancient silk road. It’s the place with the most buddhist art in the world, in total 492 caves are still left, with more than 2000 painted sculptures and 45000 square meters of mural paintings! It was a center for cultural exchange for a 1000 years, from the Northern Wei Dynasty (386-534) to the Mongol-led Yuan Dynasty (1276-1386). The caves were all but forgotten after the silk road stopped being used from the 15th century on.
The mogao caves location is today a desert outside of Dunhuang (on the edge of the Gobi desert), but 1700 years ago this was an oasis with water and trees. Dunhuang was actually located in a crossroads between China, Tibet, India and Europe, so it was in a very suitable position for exchange between cultures and countless caravans must have passed through here throughout the history. And so it was that buddhists monks passing by decided to start carving out the caves we can visit today.

Another interesting and very important event was the finding of a huge archive in 1900 by a Daoist monk (Wang Yuanlu). It had been concealed for some 800 years, with over 50000 scrolls, hundreds of paintings along with other artifacts, hidden in cave concealed behind a wall painting (next by cave nr 17). The earliest and complete printed book with an attested date (868), “The Diamond Sutra”, was found here and is today kept in the British Library.

The first western expedition arrived here in 1879. Today a lot of the paintings have lost a lot of details and color or even been totally destroyed from the pollution and exposure since they been opened up during the last hundred years. During our visit only a selected number of caves are open for tourists to visit (on a guided tour in Chinese or English) and you’re not allowed to take photographs inside the caves.

Posted: 14 Feb 2017