Mogao Grottoes

Mogao Grottoes 莫高窟

Widely regarded as a Mecca for historians and artists, the Mogao Grottoes at Dunhuang is known as the world’s greatest treasure house of Buddhist art extant today. Their construction started in AD 366. The existing 492 grottoes contain 45,000 square meters of murals and more than 2,415 painted sculptures, which spanned 10 consecutive dynasties in more than 1,600 years.


The highest grotto is more than 40 meters, and 30 meters wide. The biggest figure is 33 meters, and the smallest being approximately 10 centimeters. From the top storey the visitor will get a view of sweeping panorama of the 1,600-metre expanse across the sheer cliff-side and of the nine-storey tower jutting as the centre of the remaining 492 grottoes. Their superb craftsmanship and rich imagination are amazing.

The Mogao Grottoes at Dunhuang is divided into north and south districts, totaling 735 grottoes in all.

All the caves are linked by walkways and marked with the date of their carving and the dynasty. A visit to the Dunhuang Grottoes will give the visitor a complete and chronological picture of Buddhist art from the Eastern Jin through the Northern Wei, Western Wei, Northern Zhou, Sui, Tang, Five Dynasties, Song, Xixia, and Yuan dynasties-more than one thousand years of history. The murals in the grottoes hewn during the Northern Dynasty depict events in the life of Sakyamuni, the founder of Buddhism.


The Dunhuang Grottoes, of which Mogao Grotto is the major group, are paramount not only for their artistry, but they also depict aspects of social life in various historical periods and the friendly contacts between China and other countries. The grottoes’ valuable historical data has aroused the keen interest of historians, archaeologists and students of religion and art history both at home and abroad.

These artworks represent the pinnacle of ancient Chinese art and culture. Most of them are related to religious and folklore stories. For its wealth of priceless artifacts, the Mogao Grottoes was among the first relic areas in China to have been listed as a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1987. Since the grottoes were opened to tourists in 1979, they have attracted more than 3 million “domestic and overseas visitors. The provincial government has long been working closely with relics experts from the State Bureau, trying to minimize the impact of weather conditions and tourists to the Mogao Grottoes. Extensive monitoring systems have been established in the grottoes to track the slightest changes in indoor conditions. Strict rules have been set up to limit the number of tourists entering the grottoes in a specified period of time to prevent damage caused by sudden increases in humidity and carbon dioxide. The Dunhuang frescoes are gems of ancient Chinese art.敦煌壁画是我国古代艺 术中的瑰宝。

Dunhuang art came to light again in 1900, when a Taoist monk namccf Wang Yuanlu discovered a hidden library consisting of nearly 50,000 ancient documents, Buddhist sutras and works of art and crafts in Cave 17. The Buddhist texts were in Chinese, Tibetan and many Central Asian languages, some known and some long forgotten. Researchers have recently added ancient Syrian language to the list. The massive amount of social documents and artifacts in the caves soon became an archaeological gold mine. The treasures were quick to be plundered, first by Russians who took some ancient scrolls. In 1907, Aurel Stein, from Britain, carted away 24 packing cases of manuscripts and five cases of paintings, embroideries and art relics from Dunhuang, totaling 13,300 pieces of documents and relics, most of which are now preserved in the British Museum. In 1908, Paul Pelliot, from France, smuggled about 6,000 volumes of scrolls, probably the most valuable ones, out of China and to France. Later, the Japanese stole about 900 volumes. A survey has revealed that over 80 percent of Dunhuang documents and relics have been scattered in various foreign countries.

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