Mogao Grotto, China 2008
While trekking northwest China, I had a chance to visit the famous Archeological site, “The Mogao Grotto” and the “Yumen Pass” of the Ancient Silk Road. Both are within 100 km of Dunhuang, China.
The Mogao Grottoes are located in Mogao Town, about 25 km southeast of Dunhuang. This area used to play an important stopover of the ancient Hexi Corridor which is one of the most important sections of ancient China Silk Road.
The Mogao Grottoes, (also known as Thousand Buddha Caves), is a group of ancient caves which were built in different dynasties.
Picture below, Mogao Grotto is famous for the exquisite murals and various sculptures kept inside the caves. With 735 Caves, more than 45,000 square kilometers, 2,415 painted sculptors, of different sizes.
Mogao Grottoes are one of the greatest repositories of Buddhist art in the world from which can be traced to the the development of Chinese art over 1600 years from one dynasty to the next because each dynasty built their own caves to record its own features.
In 1987, the UNESCO listed the Mogao Caves as the World Heritage Sites. It declared -“As evidence of the evolution of Buddhist art in the northwest region of China, the Mogao Caves are of unmatched historical value.
These art-works at Mogoa Grottoes, provide an abundance of vivid materials depicting various aspects of medieval politics, economics, culture, arts, religion, ethnic relations, and daily dress in western China.”
Around in 111 BC, the emperor Wuding of Han Dynasty established Dunhuang as a defensive strategy to protect against the Xiongnu. As the time passed by, Dunhuang also became an important trade center and meeting place of culture for the religions along the Silk Road.
The Mogao Caves originally consisted of meditation caves for Buddhist monks, but later many other kinds of caves were built.
The most important grottoes are the consecrated caves which are themed by Buddhism, including Chinese Buddhism, Tibetan Budhism, Indian Buddhism, etc.
The caves, sponsored by important clergy, local ruling elite, even the Chinese emperors, have large space inside, and were exquisitely painted to represent famous events and stories of Buddhism.
One of the most notable discoveries was the Buddhist cave library in the Magao Grottoes. The cave had been sealed and hidden at the end of the first millennium AD and only re-discovered in 1900. Forty thousand manuscripts, paintings and printed documents on paper and silk were found in the cave itself. These unique items have fascinating stories to tell of life on this great trade route from 100 BC to AD 1400. Yet most were dispersed to institutions worldwide in the early 1900s, making access difficult. Unfortunately, many were destroyed during the bombing of London by the Nazi’s during WWII.
Pictured above, my trekking group also went to the “Yumen Pass”. The Yumen Pass was located about 90 km northwest of Dunhuang City.
In the early period of Emperor Wu of Han Dynasty (138 BC), he expanded the territory and pacified the northwestern border. The ambitious ruler, Emperor Wu sent Zhang Qian to travel west and persuade the tribe Yuezhi in the west to make alliance and extirpate Xiongnu in the north. Zhang Qian’s first journey started from Chang’an (now Xian) and reached the Hexi Corridor via Yumen Pass.
In the many years followed during Han Dynasty, Yumen Pass witnessed a large number of great historical events, including the brave generals’ suppression of frontier harassment, Zhang Qian’s second contact of East-to-West, splendid development of the Dunhuang culture, and lastly the flourishing trade and culture exchange between China and Eurasia.
Pictured above, the Big Fangpan Castle, was built in Western Han Dynasty.
The Hechangcheng Relic Site is the oldest, largest quartermaster depot along the northwestern Great Wall frontier in ancient China.
Pictured below, the Great Wall of the Han Dynasty was built much earlier than the famous Mutianyan, Badaling, and Jinshanling Great Walls of China (there all are part of Ming Dynasty Great Wall).
The older Great Wall of the Han Dynasty is situated about 6 km west of Small Fangpan Castle, (pictured above).
Constructed in the early period of Emperor Wu, the Great Han Wall started from west Dunhuang, winded more than 1, 000 km eastward via Yumen Pass, Zhangye, Shandan, Wuwei and terminated in Ningxia.
Pictured below, adjusting measures to local condition, Han Great Wall was made by branches, reeds, sand gravels and other local materials instead of masonry structure. There was a beacon tower in every 5 km to convey news in ancient Great Wall.
Picture below, a few dilapidated walls on the soft Gobi and gravel hills are the only remains you can see after over 2, 000 years’ erosion.