Travel along the Silk Road: The Mogao Grottes near Dunhuang, China

Dunhuang

THE MOGAO GROTTOES NEAR DUNHUANG, CHINA

Travel along the ancient Silk Road in China: The city of Dunhuang is located on the edge of the Taklamakan Desert, the second largest sand desert in the world, in the very northwest of Gansu Province in China. Dunhuang was once an important trading town on the Silk Road and therefore developed into an amalgam of different cultures and religions. After crossing the desert of the Taklamakan desert, reaching the green fields of the oasis city of Dunhuang must have seemed like paradise to caravan guides, pilgrims and traders on the Silk Road.

Dunhuang, Mogao Caves buddhist rock art
The Mogao Caves near Dunhuang n the Silk Road are one of the earliest Buddhist stone works in the world

The main reason for visiting Dunhuang is undoubtedly the Buddhist Mogao Grottoes, which are located about 25km southeast of Dunhuang. Hardly any other Buddhist site shaped early Chinese Buddhism like the Mogao Caves. Pilgrims, monks and scholars who were on the Silk Road translated sutras and other sacred texts in Dunhuang, which then found their way into the rest of China.

The Mogao Caves near Dunhuang are among the largest and most valuable archaeological discoveries in China. Work on the Mogao Grottos began in the 4th century during the northern Wei Dynasty, when a monk named Lie Zun began work on them. These earliest caves are clearly Indian in style. The work was continued over the next 1000 years, which also explains the different styles of the individual caves. With the development of the sea routes to Europe, the Silk Road lost its importance. Dunghuang and the Mogao Caves were forgotten until they were rediscovered by western researchers and explorers in the 19th and 20th century.

In 1900, the self-proclaimed temple guard Wang Yuanlu discovered by chance a hidden library in Cave No. 17, which was filled with tens of thousands of well-preserved manuscripts and paintings dating back to the early 5th century. The discovery also contained original scripts, which had been brought by the travelling monk Xuan Zang from India to Dunhuang during the Tang Dynasty.

 

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