Mogao Caves

Dunhuang County, Gansu Province. At the eastern foot of Mount Mingsha, 25 kilometres southeast of the County seat.
N40 7 59.988 E94 49 0.012
Date of Inscription: 1987
Criteria: (i)(ii)(iii)(iv)(v)(vi)
Ref: 440
News Links/Travelogues:

Situated at a strategic point along the Silk Route, at the crossroads of trade as well as religious, cultural and intellectual influences, the 492 cells and cave sanctuaries in Mogao are famous for their statues and wall paintings, spanning 1,000 years of Buddhist art.

Carved into the cliffs above the Dachuan River, the Mogao Caves south-east of the Dunhuang oasis, Gansu Province, comprise the largest, most richly endowed, and longest used treasure house of Buddhist art in the world. It was first constructed in 366AD and represents the great achievement of Buddhist art from the 4th to the 14th century. 492 caves are presently preserved, housing about 45,000 square meters of murals and more than 2,000 painted sculptures. Cave 302 of the Sui dynasty contains one of the oldest and most vivid 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 of the Tang dynasty show workers in the fields and a line of warriors respectively and in the Song dynasty Cave 61, the celebrated landscape of Mount Wutai is an early example of artistic Chinese cartography, where nothing has been left out – mountains, rivers, cities, temples, roads and caravans are all depicted.

As evidence of the evolution of Buddhist art in the northwest region of China, the Mogao Caves are of unmatched historical value. These works provide an abundance of vivid materials depicting various aspects of medieval politics, economics, culture, arts, religion, ethnic relations, and daily dress in western China. The unique artistic style of Dunhuang art is not only the amalgamation of Han Chinese artistic tradition and styles assimilated from ancient Indian and Gandharan customs, but also an integration of the arts of the Turks, ancient Tibetans and other Chinese ethnic minorities. Many of these masterpieces are creations of an unparalleled aesthetic talent.

The discovery of the Library Cave at the Mogao Caves in 1990, together with the tens of thousands of manuscripts and relics it contained, has been acclaimed as the world’s greatest discovery of ancient Oriental culture. This significant heritage provides invaluable reference for studying the complex history of ancient China and Central Asia.

Criteria (i): The group of caves at Mogao represents a unique artistic achievement both by the organization of space into 492 caves built on five levels and by the production of more than 2,000 painted sculptures, and approximately 45,000 square meters of murals, among which are many masterpieces of Chinese art.

Criteria (ii): For 1,000 years, from the period of the Northern Wei Dynasty (386-534) to the Mongol-led Yuan Dynasty (1276-1386), the caves of Mogao played a decisive role in artistic exchanges between China, Central Asia and India.

Criteria (iii): The paintings at Mogao bear exceptional witness to the civilizations of ancient China during the Sui, Tang and Song dynasties.

Criteria (iv): The Thousand-Buddha Caves constitute an outstanding example of a Buddhist rock art sanctuary.

Criteria (v): Occupied by Buddhist monks from the end of the 19th century up to 1930, the rock art ensemble at Mogao, administered by the Dunhuang Cultural Relics Research Institute, preserves the example of a traditional monastic settlement.

Criteria (vi): The caves are strongly linked to the history of transcontinental relations and of the spread of Buddhism throughout Asia. For centuries the Dunhuang oasis, near which the two branches of the Silk Road forked, enjoyed the privilege of being a relay station where not only merchandise was traded, but ideas as well, exemplified  by the Chinese, Tibetan, Sogdian, Khotan, Uighur and even Hebrew manuscripts found within the caves.

Suggested Bases:

Dunhuang is a city on the old Silk Road. It is in Gansu Province in northwest China. It is best known for a large group of Buddhist cave temples nearby, with much historic artwork. The city was founded by Emperor Wudi of the Han dynasty in 111 BC at the crossroads of two trading routes on the Silk Road, and the name ‘Dunhuang’, meaning to ‘to flourish and prosper,’ gives some indication of the town’s prominence in ancient China. It is much less important today. Buddhism reached China via the Silk Road and this is one of the more important Buddhist sites on that route. The Tangut or Western Xia ruled a substantial kingdom in the area, with its capital at Yinchuan, for centuries until the Mongol conquest in the 1200s. They were the main sponsors of Buddhist construction at Dunhuang. Dunhuang is a major tourist destination. Expect to be ripped off if you don’t have your wits about you [read more].

Aksay Kazakh Autonomous County is an autonomous county of Jiuquan City in Gansu Province of the People’s Republic of China, bordering Qinghai Province to the south and Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region to the west. The westernmost county-level division of Gansu, it has an area of 31,374 km2 (12,114 sq mi) and 2004 population of 10,000. The postal code is 736400 [read more].

Yumen (pinyin: Yùmén, literally, “Jade Gate,”) is a city in western Gansu province, China. It is a county-level city with a population of 106,812 (2002 est.), and is part of Jiuquan “prefecture-level city” (a multi-county administrative unit). It is located on the Silk Road and is best known for its oil production. The city’s name is often confused with the Yumen Guan or Jade Gate which is the frontier-pass of ancient times, the entrance to the old Silk Roads, which was situated not far to the west of Dunhuang. Although both Yumen City and Yumen Gate are within Jiuquan, the latter is some 400 kilometres (250 mi) to the west from the former. In 2014, areas of the city were sealed off after a resident died of the bubonic plague. Districts of the city which house up to 100,000 were turned into quarantine zones. The city allocated 1 million yuan to be used for emergency vaccinations [read more].

One comment

  • The painting is superb, the painting is unbelievable, the paintings are just masterworks of paintings, and in a variety of styles over the dynasties as they changed. History is here, art is here.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.