The ancient Mogao Grottoes, in northwest China's Gansu Province, will soon be on display in all their detail to "visitors" from anywhere in the world.
The Chinese government is to invest 200 million yuan (US$24.1 million) in building a digital virtual Mogao Grottoes in an attempt to protect the most famous of the Dunhuang Grotto relics, which boast over 1,000 Buddha sculptures.
Sources with the Gansu cultural relics bureau said the plan had been designed and approved by the China Design and Research Institute.
The China Dunhuang Academy has cooperated with the Zhejiang University and the US Northwest University to research digital virtual technology, in which digital images of the grottoes, after being montaged, will be input into computer to make high-quality "digital two or three-dimensional grottoes".
Entering the virtual grottoes through a computer, visitors can see all the constructions, painted sculptures and frescos clearly. Moreover, details that cannot be seen clearly in natural light and frescos obscured by structures in the real grottoes can be viewed clearly in the virtual grottoes.
The director of the Gansu cultural relics bureau said that since 1999, the Mogao Grottoes have witnessed a sharp rise of visitors, increasing 5 percent on a yearly base since 1999. The daily number of visitors can surpass over 5,000 at the height of the tourist season.
The Mogao Grottoes, one of China's World Heritage sites, are being damaged by carbon dioxide and moisture exhaled by visitors, which raises the temperature and humidity in the Grottoes and harms frescos.
One expert said the "virtual Mogao Grottoes" would help to protect the real grottoes and record them for posterity.
The 60 grottoes of Mogao open to visitors on alternate days to protect them from overexposure to moisture and carbon dioxide.
(Xinhua News Agency March 8, 2004)