Dunhuang was an oasis town which prospered as an important outpost for east and west trading. In the year 115 BC, Emperor Wu of Han established a strategic military garrison in Dunhuang as a defense against the Western Regions. Subsequent dynasties continued to utilize Dunhuang as a key base for trading between east and west through the Silk Road. What is found in the Mogao Caves can be seen as a manifestation of the cultural exchanges between the east and the west brought on by the Silk Road.
The caves are carved on the precipices of Mingsha Shan (Echoing-Sand Mountain) in the desert and span over 1600 meters. The construction of the first grotto commenced in 366 AD and continued for nearly 1000 years, through the 14th century.
Because more than 1000 caves existed in the past, the grottoes are also known as the Caves of the Thousand Buddhas, but only about half of them remain today. Inside the grottoes are more than 2000 clay figures and a total area of over 45,000 square meters of murals. The sculptures and wall paintings found in the Mogao Caves not only embody the diversity and richness of the cultural exchange, but also reflect the development of Buddhist art.
At present, the Mogao Caves are divided into the north and south sections. What is generally known as the Dunhuang Grottoes includes three cave temples in the environ of Dunhuang in Gansu province, namely, the Mogao Caves in Dunhuang, the Western Caves of the Thousand Buddhas, and the Yu Lin Grottoes of An Xi.

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