Mogao Caves

Situated in Gansu Province’s desert landscape, at the crossroads of trade, religious, cultural and intellectual influences, Mogao’s 492 natural cells and cave sanctuaries within the cliffs make up the Caves of a Thousand Buddhas, famous for their statues and wall paintings spanning 1,000 years of Buddhist art.

It represents a unique artistic achievement as much by the organization of space into cells and temples built on five levels as by the production of more than 2000 sculptures carved out of rock walls, then covered with clay and painted, and about 45,000m2 of Chinese art murals masterpiece.

The caves’ history is linked with the first Chinese expeditions against the Mongolian steppes and Central Asia nomads.

After Zhang Qian’s expedition in Bactria (139-126 BC), a long section of great walls was built to protect the northern frontier, and military posts, like that of Dunhuang, were established.

Control of Hexi pass and oases route, which were the strategic point of the Silk Route, was the motivating factor in the conflicts between the Chinese and the nomads.

Dunhuang constituted a cosmopolitan enclave of this caravan oasis where eoples representing religions such as Buddhism, Nestorianism and Islam mingled together.

Buddhist monks first began work on Mogao caves in AD366, and the majority of the cells and temples were constructed from 5th through 14th century.

Several Central Asia historical moments are illustrated in the caves and frescos that illustrate doctrinal themes, reflecting transcendental teaching, correspond to 7th century when the Tang dynasty tightened its control of Silk Route.

The first Tantric themes appear during Tibetan occupation (790-851); and following the conquest by the Tanguts, these themes multiplied, encouraged by the proliferation of lama sects under Western Xia (1036-1227).

Mogao caves are closely associated with the history of transcontinental relations and that of the propagation of Buddhism.

Nearest Cities

Dunhuang (pop. 188,000) is a city on the old Silk Road. It is in Gansu Province in north west China [read more].

Dangchengwan (pop. 10,000).

Guazhou (pop. 90,000).

Oct 23 2013    -    Silk Road secrets: The Buddhist art of the Mogao Caves; Paul Hastie; BBC
Sep 24 2013    -    Dunhuang under new colors; Global Times
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