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The Mogao Caves, also known as the Mogao Grottoes or ‘Thousand Buddha Caves’ and praised as "a glittering pearl that adorns the Silk Road", are the most famous Buddhist caves in China.
These caves are carved out of the sandstone cliffs. The 1,600 meters (1 mile) of grottoes were constructed during 10 dynasties from the 4th to the 14th century. The Mogao Caves' 45,000 square meters (480,000 square feet) of mural paintings and more than 2,000 colored statues are regarded as the greatest treasures of Buddhist art to exist in the world.
There are more than 2,000 colored statues that were carved 1,500 years ago. More than 1,400 statues are well-preserved so they can still be appreciated. You can see statues of Buddha, Bodhisattva, students of Buddha, monks, flying apsaras, God of heaven, God of Earth, and guardians.
The exquisite sculptural skills and elegant Buddhist styles attract people from all over the world.
The mural paintings in the Mogao Caves can be found on walls, roofs, and in the shrine for Buddha. The paintings contain Buddha's image, sutra illustrations, stories about Buddhism, images of guardians , and beautiful flying apsaras.
The area of mural paintings can reach a length of 25 kilometers if we count the paintings as being 2 meters in height.
Your trip to the Mogao Caves will be partly led by the staff in the scenic area and you will be helped by the staff when you go inside the caves.
Before you enter the grottoes, you will enjoy two short videos about them. These two videos are about 50 minutes long in total. Your tour guide will help you get ready to enter the caves and will give you earphones to hear English translations of the tour.
The first video, which takes about 20 minutes to watch, tells you about the history and development of the Mogao Caves. You will see how the desert area transformed into caves.
The second video is played in a dome theater, making it feel like you are in the caves. This video will surprise you as you can see the mural paintings and sutra illustrations clearly and vividly. The statues and paintings appear to be all around you and you can enjoy the treasures up close.
After you exit the theater, you will take the shuttle bus to visit the caves in person. There will be professional staff to introduce the caves to you via your earphones. Each staff member will lead a team of 25–30 visitors.
You will visit eight caves in total during the tour. To protect the mural paintings and statues, visitors are not allowed to touch anything or take photos in the caves. There is no light inside the caves so the staff members take a flashlight with them to assist with the tour. You will hear stories about the figures on the wall, the sutra illustrations in the paintings, the structure of the caves, and so on.
Each cave will be closed once you’ve finished visiting it. This is to prevent the humidity, temperature, and brightness from destroying the treasured paintings and statues. Make sure you don't get left behind — follow the staff to enjoy the tour.
There is a small museum near the caves and you can see some artefacts, books, and paintings about the Dunhuang Mogao Caves.
The first grotto was chiseled out in 366 AD. According to legend, a monk called Yue Zun dreamed of 1,000 golden Buddhas when he was traveling home across this region, and he decided to turn his dream into reality by painting them on the wall of a cave.
Over the next 1,000 years, 10 dynasties rose and fell, and artists of each dynasty contributed to the caves.
Work on the grottoes ceased during the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644), and ever since then they have remained intact, protected from natural erosion by their location.
Today, 492 caves are still standing. Altogether, there are 2,000 statues and over 45,000 separate murals.
If you are interested in visiting the Mogao Caves, please see our popular tours below for inspiration. Our tours can be customized — just tell us your interests and requirements, and we will help you tailor-make a tour.