Mogao Grottoes Facts

The Mogao Grottoes or Mogao Caves, also known as the Caves of the Thousand Buddhas, form a system of 492 temples 25 km southeast of the center of Dunhuang City, an oasis strategically located at a religious and cultural crossroads on the Silk Road, in Gansu Province. The caves may also be known as the Dunhuang Caves; however, this term is also used to include other Buddhist cave sites in the Dunhuang area, such as the Western Thousand Buddha Caves, and the Yulin Caves farther away. The caves contain some of the finest examples of Buddhist art spanning a period of 1,000 years. The first caves were dug out in 366 CE as places of Buddhist meditation and worship. The caves themselves are now a popular tourist destination, with a number open for visiting.

Mogao Caves Gansu China

History of Mogao Grottoes

Dunhuang was established as a frontier garrison outpost by the Han Dynasty Emperor Wudi to protect against the Xiongnu in 111 BCE. It also became an important gateway to the West, a centre of commerce along the Silk Road, as well as a meeting place of various people and religions such as Buddhism.

The construction of the Mogao Grottoes near Dunhuang is generally taken to have begun sometime in the fourth century CE. According to a book written during the reign of Tang Empress Wu, Fokan Ji by Li Junxiu, a Buddhist monk named Le Zun, had a vision of a thousand Buddhas bathed in golden light at the site in 366 CE, inspiring him to build a cave here. He was later joined by a second monk Faliang, and the site gradually grew, by the time of the Northern Liang a small community of monks had formed at the site. Members of the ruling family of Northern Wei and Northern Zhou constructed many caves here, and it flourished in the short-lived Sui Dynasty. By the Tang Dynasty, the number of caves had reached over a thousand.

By the Sui and Tang dynasties, Mogao Grottoes had become a place of worship and pilgrimage for the public. During the Tang Dynasty, Dunhuang became the main hub of commerce of the Silk Road and a major religious centre. A large number of the caves were constructed at Mogao during this era, including the two large statues of Buddha at the site, the largest one constructed in 695 following an edict a year earlier by Tang Empress Wu Zetian to build giant statues across the country. The site escaped the persecution of Buddhists ordered by Emperor Wuzong in 845 as it was then under Tibetan control. After the Tang Dynasty, the site went into a gradual decline, and construction of new caves ceased entirely after the Yuan Dynasty. Islam had conquered much of Central Asia, and the Silk Road declined in importance when trading via sea-routes began to dominate Chinese trade with the outside world. During the Ming Dynasty, the Silk Road was finally officially abandoned, and Dunhuang slowly became depopulated and largely forgotten by the outside world. Most of the Mogao Caves were abandoned, the site however was still a place of pilgrimage and used as a place of worship by local people at the beginning of the twentieth century when there was renewed interest in the site.

Gansu Mogao Caves

Art of Mogao Grottoes

The art of Dunhuang covers more than ten major genres, such as architecture, murals, sculptures, paintings on silk and paper, printed images and textiles.

Mogao Caves Buddha Fresco China


The Mogao Grottoes were inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1987. As a State Party, China has put all World Heritage sites under top-level protection. In 1961, the Mogao Caves was listed as one of the State Priority Protected Sites by the State Council and was put under the protection of national laws including the Law of the People's Republic of China on the Protection of Cultural Relics. The Regulations for the Conservation of the Mogao Caves in Dunhuang, Gansu Province (2002) has confirmed the boundaries of the conservation area, and the Master Plan for the Conservation of the Mogao Caves at Dunhuang (2006-2025), which has been reported to the Gansu Provincial Government and will be issued soon, adds the area for the control of construction, which overlaps with the buffer zone. The two directives are the most important measures taken for preserving the authenticity and integrity of the Mogao Caves. The Administrative Institution of the Mogao Caves has been cooperating with international counterparts to study conservation and site management and looks forward to continuing its work in preserving the heritage of the site.

The goal in the future is to implement the measures set out in the management plan by the scheduled time, to learn from advanced experiences in heritage site conservation and management at home and abroad, to ensure the authenticity and integrity of the heritage site and its setting, and to make its full historical information and value available to future generations.

Fresco at Mogao Caves Gansu

Caves List

1. Sixteen Kingdoms (366-439) - 7 caves, the oldest dated to Northern Liang period.

2. Northern Wei (439-534) and Western Wei (535-556) - 10 from each phase

3. Northern Zhou (557-580) - 15 caves

4. Sui Dynasty (581-618) - 70 caves

5. Early Tang (618- 704) - 44 caves

6. High Tang (705-780) - 80 caves

7. Middle Tang (781-847) - 44 caves (This era in Dunhuang is also known as the Tibetan period because Dunhuang was then under Tibetan occupation.)

8. Late Tang (848-906) - 60 caves (This and the subsequent periods until the Western Xia period are also known collectively as the Guiyijun period (Return to Righteousness Army, 848-1036) when Dunhuang was ruled by the Zhang and Cao 


9. The Five Dynasty (907-960) - 32 caves

10. Song Dynasty (960-1035)- 43 caves

11. Western Xia (1036–1226) - 82 caves

12. Yuan Dynasty (1227–1368) - 10 caves

How to get to Mogao Grottoes

Mogao Caves are about 25km from town; most people visit on pre-arranged tour or arrive by taxi. It is also possible to take the green city bus to Mogao for 8 Yuan each way. The bus also stops at the train station, and stops in front of the Silk Road hotel in Dunhuang city, as well as just outside Charley Johng's Cafe.

Admission Fee

CNY 160 (May 1 to Oct. 31); CNY180 (including English Guide) 

CNY 80 (Nov.1 to Apr. 30); CNY 100 (including English Guide)

Opening Hours


Travel Tips

1. Please respect and protect the world cultural heritage and historic sites. Don’t sign your name on caves and buildings in the scenic area. 

2. No dangerous items and pets are allowed to carry when visiting the Mogao Grottoes.

3. The temperature in the caves is quite cool, even in summer. So we recommend you to prepare clothes to keep out the cold.

4. Carry bags and photographic equipment are forbidden at Mogao Grottoes.

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