China: Dunhuang’s Mogao Grottoes


Gansu province is a place full of wonders, as all the locations that are scattered in the desert. The feeling that I had was indescribable, especially when I visited the beautiful Mogao grottoes.

I stopped for a few days in the city of Dunhuang which was situated some 25 km southeast of the caves. The sight was of tremendous beauty carved out on the slope of the Mount Mingsha. This feeling of splendor and seclusion soon dropped as I approached to the entrance of the caves. 

Masses of tourists waited in line their turn before entering the grottoes. This was the first negative aspect of this place and, unfortunately, it was prohibited to take photos while inside the caves. From the great feeling I had on my way there I qickly collapsed to a feeling of disappointment, but still worth to witness. I stood with awe while admiring the imposing structure of the nine-storey building leading inside the caves. The carving was begun in 366 A.D. (Jinyuan Dynasty) and reached, by the time of the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907AD) more than 1000 caves.

Currently, a bit less than 500 are still intact. Some of them were really gorgeous and I would like to try to describe them: 

Cave 275 showed a marvellous Maitreya seated with crossed ankles during the period of the Sixteen kingdoms “The Northern Liang Dynasty 397 – 439 A.D.” To the sides of the Maitreya were two guardian figures and, on the back wall, were painted numerous meditating Bodhisattvas on their way to reach “Nirvana”. The colours were still fine and also the sculptures were well preserved, yet. 

Cave 259 showed some finely decorated niches with Buddha figurines inside from the “Northern Wei Dynasty 386 – 535 A.D.” during the period of the Sixteen Kingdoms. 

Cave 432 had got a nich with the Buddha sitting in the middle of the shrine and two wonderful standing Bodhisattvas on his sides “The western Wei Dynasty 535 -557 A.D.” This was one of my favourite caves, I liked the fine carving and the ceiling of flower mosaic. 

For me that I love taking pictures, especially, of historical places, the prohibition of shooting photos was utterly frustrating and the number of tourists was overwhelming to visit properly the grottoes with the right attention. The photos speak alone without any explanation and a description of the interior of that sight does not give you an idea about the outstanding beauty of the art work concealing behind that place.

Suggested: Explore the Mogao Grottoes, also known as the Caves of the Thousand Buddhas, an ancient treasure trove filled with numerous manuscripts, frescoes, paintings, and sculptures (Optional special access with an Expert).

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