Mogao Grottoes locates 25 km from downtown Dunhuang on the eastern slope of Mingsha Shan (Mount Echoing Sand). The 750 caves lasts 1600 meters long from north to south. And the size of grottoes vary a lot with the highest one of 50 meters to the shortest ones of less than one meter. The largest statue is 34.5 meters (113 feet) tall and the smallest one is mere 2 centimeters tall.
The first cave in the Mogao Grottoes was made in 366 A.D when a monk had witnessed onsite a vision of thousand Buddhas under showers of golden rays. Thus inspired, he started the caves construction work that spanned ten dynasties. Mogao Caves are commonly known as the Caves of a Thousand Buddhas. And in the following hundreds of years many more caves were made by businessman, monks and rulers or public organizations. They believed every time when they made a cave they did a virtue for their current life and the next life. And the businessman made caves to let these Buddha figures bless their trading activities. When visiting the grottoes, travelers will find traces of Indian Buddhist art in the earlier works and in the more recent works people will find more local tastes of China. There are also ups and downs in the artistic quality over the centuries, depending on the fortunes of Buddhism with available art patronage. Artists in each dynasty painted with their distinctive style.
The visitor can tell the works in the Tang Dynasty from those in the Song Dynasty. In the late Qing Dynasty, when the Cave for Preserving Scripture was discovered by a Taoist monk in 1900. The cave contains more than 50,000 sutras, documents and paintings covering a period from the 4th to the 11th centuries. It was one of China’s most significant archaeological finds. These precious relics are of great historical and scientific value. But the Chinese government was busy with fighting against the foreign invaders and so has no time or ability to take good care of then relics, so the grottoes was robed by foreign illegal businessman and troops.
Despite erosion and man-made destruction, there are still 492 caves are well preserved, with frescoes covering an area of 45,000 square metres, more than 2,000 colored sculptured figures and five wooden eaves overhanging the caves.
Many pavilions, towers, temples, pagodas, palaces, courtyards, towns and bridges in the murals provide valuable materials for the study of Chinese architecture. Other paintings depict Chinese and foreign musical performances, dancing and acrobatics. Tourists to Mogao Grottoes will enjoy the Buddhist artifacts they have never met before.