Mogao Grottoes and Travel Guide

Morgen Mo
1944 Words/8 Minutes, By Morgen Mo, Updated March 07, 2023

The Mogao Caves, also known as the Thousand Buddha Grottoes, are a complex of Buddhist caves located in Dunhuang, Gansu province, China. The caves contain thousands of Buddhist murals and sculptures dating from the 4th to the 14th centuries, making them one of the most important examples of Buddhist art in China.

The caves were created over a period of 1,000 years, beginning in the 4th century, and were used as a place of worship, study, and refuge for Buddhist monks. Over the centuries, the caves were expanded and decorated with murals and sculptures, with the most famous examples being the Tang dynasty murals, which are known for their vivid colors and dynamic compositions.

In the 20th century, the caves were rediscovered and began to receive widespread attention, leading to extensive preservation and restoration efforts. Today, the Mogao Caves are a popular tourist destination and have been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Visitors to the Mogao Caves can explore over 500 of the caves, which contain a wealth of Buddhist art and artifacts. The caves are also home to a large library of ancient Buddhist texts, known as the Dunhuang manuscripts, which were discovered in a hidden chamber in the early 20th century and are considered one of the most important collections of Buddhist texts in the world.

Why the Mogao grottoes built

The Mogao Grottoes, also known as the Thousand Buddha Grottoes, were built between the 4th and 14th centuries in Dunhuang, China. They were created as sacred Buddhist temples and served as a major center for Buddhist scholarship and art. Monks and wealthy patrons sponsored the construction of the grottoes and the creation of the Buddhist statues, murals, and manuscripts that fill them, as a form of religious devotion and cultural expression.

Who built the Mogao Grottoes

The Mogao Grottoes in Dunhuang, China were built over a period of more than 1,000 years, from the 4th century to the 14th century. During this time, the caves were funded by a variety of patrons, including wealthy merchants, local leaders, and imperial patrons.

Many of the caves were sponsored by individual donors who commissioned murals and sculptures to commemorate their families, display their piety, or gain merit in their next life. Some caves were built by imperial patrons as part of their political and cultural influence over the region.

In addition to these private and imperial patrons, the Mogao Grottoes were also supported by the Buddhist community and monasteries, which used the caves as places of worship and pilgrimage. Over time, the Mogao Grottoes became one of the most important Buddhist centers in China, attracting devotees and supporters from far and wide.

Who and when the Mogao Grottoes found

The Mogao Grottoes in Dunhuang, China were rediscovered in the early 20th century by a Chinese Daoist monk named Wang Yuanlu. In 1900, Wang discovered a hidden library of thousands of Buddhist texts and manuscripts that had been sealed up in one of the caves for hundreds of years.

Wang alerted Western explorers and scholars to the discovery, including the British explorer and archaeologist Sir Aurel Stein, who made several trips to the site and purchased many of the texts and manuscripts for the British Museum. This sparked a wave of interest in the Mogao Grottoes among Western and Chinese scholars, who began to study and preserve the site.

Today, the Mogao Grottoes are a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of China's most important cultural and historical treasures. They attract thousands of visitors each year who come to admire the stunning Buddhist murals and sculptures and learn about the rich cultural and historical heritage of the region.

Mogao Grottoes travel guide

The Mogao Grottoes, also known as the Thousand Buddha Caves, are a complex of Buddhist caves located near Dunhuang in northwestern China. Here is a travel guide for visiting the Mogao Grottoes:

  • Location: The Mogao Grottoes are located about 25 km southeast of Dunhuang in Gansu province, China. They can be easily reached by bus or taxi from Dunhuang.
  • Hours of Operation: The Mogao Grottoes are open to visitors daily from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm, with a break from noon to 1:00 pm. Visitors are advised to arrive early in the day to avoid crowds.
  • Admission: Admission to the Mogao Grottoes is subject to change, but as of 2021, a ticket for a standard tour of the caves costs around CNY 220. Special tours, such as a night tour or a photography tour, may cost more.
  • What to See: Visitors can explore over 500 of the Mogao Grottoes, which contain a wealth of Buddhist art and artifacts, including murals, sculptures, and ancient texts. Some of the most famous caves include Cave 96, Cave 148, and Cave 257.
  • Accessibility: Visitors with mobility issues should note that the Mogao Grottoes are located on a cliff and that some caves require climbing stairs or walking along uneven paths. Wheelchair accessibility is limited.
  • Tour Options: Visitors can choose from a variety of tour options, including standard tours, night tours, and photography tours. Guided tours, either in person or via audio guide, are recommended for a more in-depth experience.
  • Photography Policy: Photography is allowed in most of the Mogao Grottoes, but flash photography is not allowed and tripod use may be restricted. Visitors are also advised to respect the cultural heritage of the site and to avoid touching or climbing on the murals and sculptures.
  • Tips: Visitors are advised to bring comfortable shoes and clothing, as well as sun protection and water, especially during the hot summer months. Additionally, visitors should be prepared for long lines and crowds, especially during peak tourist season.

Overall, the Mogao Grottoes are a must-see destination for visitors to Dunhuang and offer a unique opportunity to explore one of China's most important cultural and historical sites.

Top things to do

  • must-do activities for visitors to the Mogao Grottoes in Dunhuang, China:
  • Explore the caves and admire the stunning Buddhist murals and sculptures.
  • Take a guided tour to learn about the history, cultural significance, and preservation efforts of the site.
  • Visit the Dunhuang Research Academy to learn more about the caves and their cultural and historical context.
  • Watch the lighting show that takes place in one of the caves, showcasing the beauty of the murals and sculptures.
  • Walk along the nearby Echoing-Sand Mountain and Crescent Lake, two famous scenic spots in the area known for their stunning sand dunes and tranquil lake.
  • Visit the nearby Dunhuang Museum to learn about the city's rich cultural and historical heritage and its connection to the ancient Silk Road.
  • Take a day trip to the Yadan National Geopark, famous for its unique landscapes and rock formations.

Note: It's advisable to book tickets and tours in advance to avoid long wait times and to ensure the best possible experience while visiting the Mogao Grottoes.

The best time to visit Mogao Grottoes

The best time to visit the Mogao Grottoes depends on personal preferences and travel plans. However, here are some factors to consider:

  • Weather: Dunhuang has a dry desert climate, with hot summers and cool winters. The best time to visit the grottoes in terms of weather is from April to October, when temperatures are moderate and the skies are clear.
  • Crowds: During peak tourist season, from June to August, the grottoes can become crowded, making it difficult to fully appreciate the beauty and serenity of the site. Off-peak months, such as March and September, may offer a more relaxed and intimate experience.
  • Light: The lighting inside the grottoes can affect the visibility of the art and artifacts. The best time to visit the grottoes in terms of lighting is during the middle of the day, when the natural light from the entrance provides a clear view of the paintings and statues.

It's recommended to check the latest information on ticket availability and tour schedules before planning your visit.

The most valuable cave worth visiting in Mogao grottoes

It is subjective to determine which cave is the "most valuable" to visit in the Mogao Grottoes, as it depends on individual interests and preferences. However, some of the most famous and significant caves worth visiting include:

  • Cave 17: known for its stunning Thousand Buddha mural
  • Cave 98: known for its well-preserved Tang dynasty frescoes
  • Cave 20: known for its impressive statue of the Thousand-Buddha Maitreya
  • Cave 285: known for its vivid and well-preserved Dunhuang Manuscripts.
  • Visitors can also choose to take a guided tour to get an in-depth understanding of the historical and cultural significance of each cave.

What stuffs in Mogao Grottoes stolen?

Many valuable items were stolen from the Mogao Grottoes during the early 20th century. Some of the items that were taken include:

  • Dunhuang Manuscripts: a vast collection of Buddhist scriptures, paintings, and other cultural artifacts that were hidden in the grottoes for centuries
  • Paintings and murals: elaborate and well-preserved examples of Buddhist art that adorn the walls of the grottoes
  • Statues and sculptures: intricately carved Buddhist statues and sculptures that were central to religious worship and devotion
  • Jades and precious stones: items of great cultural and financial value that were often donated as offerings to the grottoes.

Many of these stolen items ended up in private collections, museums, and libraries around the world, and efforts are ongoing to repatriate and protect these cultural treasures.

The relationship between the silk road and the Mogao Grotteos

The Silk Road and the Mogao Grottoes had a close relationship in ancient China. The Silk Road was a network of trade routes that connected the East and West from the 2nd century BC to the 14th century AD. Dunhuang, where the Mogao Grottoes are located, was a major crossroads on the Silk Road, and the caves served as an important center of Buddhist art, religion, and culture for travelers along the road.

Many of the merchants and traders who passed through Dunhuang were Buddhist, and they commissioned murals and sculptures in the Mogao Grottoes to commemorate their travels, show their piety, and gain merit for their next life. Over time, the Mogao Grottoes became one of the most important Buddhist centers in China, attracting devotees and supporters from far and wide.

In addition to their religious significance, the Mogao Grottoes also played a role in the exchange of goods, ideas, and cultures along the Silk Road. The Silk Road was a major conduit for the spread of Buddhism from India to China, and the Mogao Grottoes are a testament to this cultural exchange, with their blend of Indian, Chinese, and Central Asian artistic styles.

Today, the Mogao Grottoes are an important part of the cultural heritage of the Silk Road, and they offer a unique window into the rich cultural and religious history of the ancient world.

Morgen Mo

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