Comments of the World Heritage Committee
Situated at a strategic point along the Silk Route, at the crossroads of trade as well as religious, cultural and intellectual influences, the 492 cells and cave sanctuaries in Mogao are famous for their statues and wall paintings, spanning 1,000 years of Buddhist art.
Often referred to as the Thousand-Buddha Caves, the Mogao Grottoes are distributed on the cliffs at the eastern foot of Mingsha Mountain, 25 kilometers southeast of Dunhuang City, Gansu Province. They were first chiseled in 366 and basically finalized during the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368). There are now 735 caves (including 492 famous for their exquisite frescoes and statues), 45,000 square meters of frescoes and 2,415 painted clay sculptures, all together forming the largest and richest sanctum of Buddhist art in the world.
The extant Mogao Grottoes are divided into those in the southern area and those in the northern area. The latter provides a place for monks to live, contemplate, and be buried after death; the former, the principal part of the Mogao Grottoes, is for holding religious activities. In respect of shape and structure, there are mainly Buddhist caves, center-columned caves, hall caves and center-Buddhist altar caves. These all vary greatly in size, from 268 square meters to less than one square meter.
The frescoes on the walls, ceilings and niches boast profound content and rich subject matter, both secular and religious. If spread out continuously at a height of two meters they would extend for 25 kilometers, thus earning them the reputation of being a “world gallery”. The Flying Apsaras in these frescoes have become the symbol of Dunhuang art.
The statues in the Mogao Grottoes are varied in style and rich in subject matter, forming what has been described as a Museum of Visualized History. They are mostly Buddhas and the deities of Buddhism, arranged singly or in groups. The statues of Buddha usually stand within a group, flanked by his disciples and Bodhisattvas. The number of the statues in one group ranges from three to eleven. The painted sculptures can be principally divided into round, relief and shadow.
The Nine-Storey Building is the symbolic architecture of Mogao Grottoes, situated in their middle section and as high as the peak of the cliff. The Sitting Statue of Maitreya, about 35.6 meters high, is a painted clay sculpture, the third largest of its kind in China.
Dunhuang Studies, especially for the study, preservation and further discovery of the Dunhuang cultural relics and literature, has become an internationally popular subject.
Dunhuang Airport now operates flights to Lanzhou, Xi’an, Beijing, Jiayuguan, Shan-shan and Urumqi. The railway station is situated in Liuyuan Town, Anxi County, about 128 kilometers from Dunhuang. The bus station can be found opposite the Flying Apsaras Hotel in Dunhuang City. From here one can take a taxi or a mini-bus to the scenic area.
The Dunhuang people like to eat mutton, chicken and beef, laying particular stress on the skillful preparation of cooked wheaten food. The fragrant Dunhuang Yellow Noodles are as thin as a wisp of hair and as long as a golden thread, while Dunhuang Hand-Made Noodles with Minced Meat require excellent cutting skills and taste fresh and delicious with soup. But most famous of all is the bean-starch noodles with oil, vinegar and local spices of Dunhuang, giving a cool, spicy and refreshing taste — a must for all visitors to this part of the world.