All of the original 1,000 Buddhist cave temples at Mogao are no longer in existence. Fortunately, there are more than 600 surviving today. The public has the pleasure of having access to about 30 caves. The system of caves is so extensive that visitors can only fit in no more than 15 in one day. In this article, you will learn about some of the attractions to look forward to at the Mogao Caves.
The oldest caves are typically found at the center of the cliff. Visitors will find each cave is cleared marked with a number positioned above the doors. There is no illumination inside of the caves so that the murals are better preserved. Guides carry flashlights and visitors are encouraged to do so for themselves.
Northern Wei Caves
Buddhist monks during the Northern Wei dynasty are responsible for the first Mogao caves. They carved out and decorated the caves. These caves are typically considered small in size. A large sculptured column supports the center of the caves, which served as a place for monks to perform walking meditations. A statue of Buddha is usually placed in the center. Tiny Buddhas were painted in different colors, such as red, blue and green, and decorated the walls of the caves.
Walk just outside of the cave complex entrance and you will find the Research and Exhibition Center. It is open daily from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Here, there are seven replicas of cave with English signage. The center is a popular stop for tourists, as well as for a place to grab lunch. It is important to note that the caves generally close at midday. The influence of foreigners emerges in the murals of the Northern Wei caves.
The women are shown with large breasts and faces have long noses and curly hair. Cave 101 depicts a Buddha with some of the same characteristics as Christ. In Cave 257, the Buddha is shown wearing an outfit that resembles a Roman toga. An Indian influence is found in caves 428 and 259.
By the end of the Northern Wei period (around the middle of the 6th century), a more Chinese style appears. Cave 120N is a good example of Chinese murals, which include a series of battle scenes. The ceiling of Cave 246 is decorated with lotus flowers.
Western Wei Caves
Visitors can see Cave 249, which is the main cave that represents this time period. Decorated with original murals, you will see a Maitreya Buddha. Painters depict natural landscapes that are shown alongside heavenly figures. The images are comparable to paintings from the Han dynasty.
Other caves of interest include the:
”¢ Northern Zhou Caves , a story of three brothers on a hunting trip is told in the mural found in Cave 428.
”¢ Sui Caves , The art found in these caves showcase a decline in Western influences
”¢ Tang Caves , The art of the caves reach their peak during the Tang Dynasty. One of the most significant features of these caves is the Buddhas, which are noted for their impressive size. The murals are also quite elaborate.