Mogao Caves

The Mogao Caves or the Thousand Buddha Grottoes or Caves of the Thousand Buddhas or Dunhuang Caves is a 492 temple system at a strategic oasis in religious and cultural intersections on the Silk Road in Dunhuang County, Gansu Province, China. The caves were first unearthed in 366 AD as a place of meditation containing some of the finest examples of Buddhist art covering a period of 1,000 years.

The Mogao Caves is the site of Chinese Buddhist caves and one of the three famous Chinese ancient Buddhist sculpture sites. Important documents discovered in 1900 in the wall-closed "Library Cave" in the 11th century have spread throughout the world and the largest collections are now stored in Beijing, London, Paris and Berlin.

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Dunhuang was founded as a border military outpost by Han Dynasty Emperor Wudi to protect from the Xiongnu attack in 111 BC. The location is also an important gateway to the West as a trading center along the Silk Road and a meeting place of various cultures and religions such as Buddhism.

The cave originally only served as a place of meditation for the hermit monk, but was developed to serve the monasteries that sprang up nearby. The members of the ruling family Northern Wei and Northern Zhou built many caves and grew during the Sui Dynasty. In the Tang Dynasty the number of caves has reached more than a thousand.

From the 4th century to the 14th century. These caves are intricately painted and the architecture serves as a meditation tool, a visual representation of the search for enlightenment, as a mnemonic device, and as a teaching tool for informing illiterate people about the Buddhist story.

The caves were built by the monks with funds from visitors such as important clerics, local ruling elites, foreign officials, and Chinese emperors. Other caves may be funded by merchants, army officers, and other local residents such as women's groups. The two largest Buddha statues built in 695 after a decree by Tang Empress Wu Zetian.

The site gradually declined after the Tang Dynasty and the construction of the new cave stopped completely after the Yuan Dynasty. By that time Islam had entered Central Asia and the Silk Road was declining as maritime trade began to dominate Chinese trade with the outside world.

The Silk Road was finally officially abandoned by the Ming Dynasty and the residents of Dunhuang slowly went and were forgotten by the outside world. Most of the Mogao Caves were abandoned, but still a place of pilgrimage and used as a place of worship by local people in the early 20th century when there was renewed interest in the site.


At least 735 caves were cut on the 2 kilometer cliff side which was at its peak during the Tang Dynasty with over thousands of caves, but over time many caves disappeared including the earliest caves. More than 487 caves in the southern part of the cliff are places of pilgrimage and 248 caves to the north are residence, meditation halls, and burial grounds for the monks.

Sixteen Kingdoms (366-439) built 7 caves, Northern Wei (439-534) and Western Wei (535-556) built 10 caves, Northern Zhou (557-580) for 15 caves, Sui Dynasty (581-618) 70 caves, Early Tang (618-704) 44 caves, High Tang (705-780) 80 caves, Middle Tang (781-847) 44 caves, Late Tang (848-906) 60 caves, The Five Dynasty (907-960) 32 caves, Song Dynasty (960-1035) 43 caves, Western Xia (1036-1226) 82 caves, and Yuan Dynasty (1227-1368) 10 caves.

The Library Cave

The manuscripts of the Library Cave also known as Dunhuang manuscripts date from the 5th century to the beginning of the 19th century. More than 50,000 manuscripts may be stored there as one of the greatest treasures of ancient documents found. Most speak Chinese, but many documents are in Tibetan, Uig, Sanskrit, Sogdian and Khotan.

Manuscripts in sheets of flax paper, paintings on hemp and silk. The main subjects are Buddhist canonical works are original commentaries, apocryphal works, workbooks, books of prayers, Confucian works, Taoist works, Nestorian Christian works, works from the Chinese government, administrative documents, anthologies, glossaries, dictionaries, and calligraphic exercises.

The manuscripts provide a unique insight into the religion, secular China of the North and other Central Asian empires down to early Song Dynasty. The manuscripts are scattered all over the world and hundreds of more manuscripts are sold. An attempt is being made to rearrange the manuscript digitally and is now available as part of the International Dunhuang Project.


Dunhuang art covers over ten major genres including architecture, stucco statues, wall paintings, silk paintings, calligraphy, woodblock printing, embroidery, literature, music and dance, and popular entertainment. Many caves originally had wooden porches or temples built from cliffs, but most had rotted or disappeared by other means. Only five are left, two of the earliest of which are rare instances of the Song Dynasty.

A mural of 46,000 sq meters (490,000 sq ft) in caves from the 5th century to the 14th century and many previously repainted later in the period. The most complete cave painted has paintings all over the walls and ceiling with geometric or plant decorations filling the spaces that are not taken by the figurative image.

More than 2,400 clay statues in Mogao on wooden frames lined with reeds, then modeled in clay plaster and ending with paint. The Buddha is generally shown as the main statue, often attended by boddhisattva, heavenly kings, gods, and angels, along with yaksas and other mythical creatures.

Over 1,000 paintings in silk, banners, and embroidery are mostly anonymous, but many are of high quality especially from Tang Dynasty. Most are Buddhist images and narrative paintings that show something of the contemporary Chinese style of the Chang'an capital, but many also reflect the style of Indian, Tibetan and Uighur paintings. Mogao Caves

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Location: Dunhuang County, Gansu Province, China.

Routes and public transport: Flights to Dunhuang Airport in Dunhuang City, then use the mini-bus to the train station or can choose to take a taxi or regular mini-bus to caves.

Advice: Entrance fees include the Mogao Cave, The Digital Exhibition Center, shuttle bus service and tour guide service. During May 1st to October 31st is open from 8 am-6pm and 1st of November to 30th April open from 9am to 5:30 pm. Inside the cave, no photos. Electronic flashlights may need to look into the cave.

The Digital Exhibition Center has been officially open to the public since August 1, 2014 where a shuttle bus service is available between the cave and the Digital Exhibition Center. Visitors can enjoy two films 'A thousand Years of Mogao Caves' and 'Splendors of Buddha's Palace', then take the shuttle bus to visit the cave.

The total number of visitors is limited to 6,000 per day, you need to book tickets first, especially during peak season on May 1st until October 31st. You can book tickets online through the official website of the cave 15 days earlier. Unfortunately, the Chinese version.

Starting July 20, 2015 individual visitors ordering admission are required to provide a valid identity document, while foreign visitors can use a passport. All visitors must get a ticket at The Digital Exhibition Center or from the ticket office in the city center at No. 102, Building 15, North District of Yingbing Garden Community, East Yangguan Road (close to Yingbing Grand Hotel).