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Dunhuang -- Grottoes in the Desert
Dunhuang City in northwest Gansu Province was an important strategic point on the Silk Road. Its rich heritage of cultural relics, particularly the Dunhuang Grottoes, have made it one of the most attractive tourist sites in the world. The Dunhuang Grottoes include the Mogao, Yulin, and West Qianfo (West Thousand Buddha) grottoes.

Mogao Grottoes

The Mogao Grottoes, twenty-five kilometers southeast of Dunhuang City, contain the largest and richest treasure trove of stone carvings and mural paintings in China. Carved out along a 1,500-meter precipice, the 492 grottoes stretch from south to north on the eastern slope of Rattling Sand Mountain (Mingshashan) and are divided into five levels. They contain 45,000 square meters of murals 2,415 painted statues, and five wooden structures. The statues were all made of clay and colored with paint. Themes of the murals range fro Buddha portraits and Buddhist stories to fairy tales and pictures of worshippers.

The Mogao Grottoes were cut during a period of more than a thousand years from the fourth century century to the fourteenth century A.D. Their discovery at the beginning of the century, after several hundred years of oblivion, caused a sensation throughout the world.

The colored paintings of the Mogao Grottoes feature hold lines, bright colors, and superb composition. Those made during the Tang Dynasty (618-907) are particularly brilliant.

A large number of historical documents dating from the Middle Ages were also discovered in a cave where Buhhdist scriptures were stored. The study of these valuable materials, along with paintings and statues, has become a subject of worldwide research.

Ruins of Yangguan

This ancient city seventy kilometers west of Dunhuang City used to be a pass on the southern route of the Silk Route. A large number of cultural relics dating to the Han Dynasty (206 B.C. - A.D. 220) have been unearthed among the ruins of the old city. To the east of Yangguan lie the remains of Shouchang City, and to the north is a well-preserved ole beacon tower on Dundun Hill. Outside of these ruins there is nothing but desert with few human traces. No wonder Wang Wei (701-761), a poet of the Tang Dynasty wrote: "Drink another cup of wine , I bid you; For no dear ones shall you see outside of Yangguan."

Yumen Pass

Situated in the Gobi Desert eighty kilometers northwest of Dunhuang City, this was a pass on the northern route of the Silk Road. The remaining building is a well-preserved square structure, 24 meters from east to west, 26.4 meters from north to south, and 9.8 meters high. It was built with yellow mud bricks. The desert outside Yumen Pass bears few traces of human activity. It was so desolate that Wang Zhihuan (688-742), a great poet of the Tang Dynasty, wrote, "Even the spring breeze cannot get through Yumen Pass."


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