Located 25 km (15 miles) southeast of Dunhuang in Gansu province, the Mogao Caves contain some of the most remarkable Buddhist art treasures in the world and have been listed by UNESCO since 1987.
Nicknamed “caves of a thousand Buddha”, the Mogao Caves of Dunhuang form an immense ensemble of 45,000 m² of frescoes, nearly 2,500 painted sculptures, and 4,000 representations of an apsara (celestial deities of great beauty). It is probably the largest and most majestic collection in the world of representation of Buddhist art over the ages but also a testimony to Chinese culture as a whole.
With unmatched historical value, the Mogao Caves provide an abundance of vivid materials depicting various aspects of medieval politics, economics, culture, arts, religion, ethnic relations, and daily dress in western China. Dunhuang, as a true crossroads on the Silk Road, a center of fusion of Eastern and Western cultures, visitors today can still feel the spirit of the people who lived here during its heyday.
Note that like many grottoes, it is impossible to take photos. In addition, we advise you to bring a jacket to protect yourself from the freshness inside as well as a flashlight to discover all the details.
A little history of the Mogao Caves
According to legend, around 366 AD, the Chinese monk Le Zun who was heading to India arrived in Dunhuang. He had a vision of a thousand radiant Buddhas on the cliff face, which made him think that he was on sacred ground and which inspired him to begin excavating the caves. In his fervor, he began digging the first caves along the 1.6 km frontage of the sandstone cliff. Today there are many more than a thousand painted and sculpted Buddhas within the caves. The first of these rock-cut structures were built as sites of Buddhist meditation.
Because the grotto temple is a place for Buddhism activities, which is not much different from other temples. According to Buddhism, monasteries and temples need a clean environment, free from the interference of secular life as much as possible. So the monks chose the top of the cliff in the desert to dig caves for Buddhist meditation practice.
During the reign of the Sui (581-619) and Tang (618-907) dynasties, the construction of caves and works of art continued for lasted a period of ten emperors. As a powerful, wealthy, and respectful Buddhist era， Mogao Caves was then home to 18 monasteries. Having become a major pilgrimage site on the Silk Road, over 1400 monks and nuns as well as countless artists, translators and calligraphers lived here. Wealthy merchants and high dignitaries financed the construction of new caves. The caravans made long detours to come to pray or give thanks for a safe journey in the hostile lands of the west.
After the Mongolian Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), with the abandonment of the Silk Road, the construction of the Mogao Caves also stopped and gradually disappeared from the world. It was not until the early 20th century that the Mogao Caves were rediscovered by a local Taoist priest.
Visit the Mogao Caves
Since the total number of visitors is limited to 6,000 per day, it is necessary to book a ticket in advance, especially during the high season.
The visit time is on average 3 to 5 hours, shuttles will take you to the various points of interest.
Chinese Name: 莫高窟
Location: 25 km southeast of Dunhuang, 372 km northwest of Jiayuguan, and 590 km northwest of Zhangye.
High season (01/04-30/11): 07h30-18h00
Low season (01/12-31/03): 09h00-17h30
Ticket: 238 RMB/person (high season) or 140 RMB/person (low season)
Recommended length of visit: 3-4 hours
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