China Guide

Mogao Caves (Mogao Grottoes) – Guide to the Caves of the Thousand Buddhas

Mogao Caves

Known also as the Caves of the Thousand Buddhas, the Mogao Caves (Grottoes) form a world heritage site containing hundreds of temples strategically situated on Silk Road in Gansu. The cave temples exist on the eastern side of Mount Echoing Sand and are believed to have been built in the 4th century.

It took until 1900 for a Taoist monk to stumble upon the caves. Luckily he had the drive to excavate and touch up the fine examples of Buddhist art that lay within. After several years of his life dedicated to the excavation, he happened upon what would become one of the best archaeological finds of the 20th century. This was in the way of a hidden chamber he found which housed a collection of manuscripts and sutras that were largely undamaged even though they were extremely old, some thought to be over 1,000 years old.

The earlier artistic works within the main cave system show traces of Indian influence while the newer works illustrate many different aspects of life in a more localised setting. The quality of the works also deviate with the times as fortunes of Buddhism changed over the years. As a visitor it is interesting to tell the difference in works between the Tang and Song Dynasties.

From the surviving 600 cave temples, visitors can experience 30 of them and admire the artwork within.