Brief Introduction

Dunhuang originally means "brilliance" or "magnificence", which is a hint that it must once have been an important city. Its position at the intersection of two trade routes was what made Dunhuang flourish. The coming and going of horse and camel caravans carried new thoughts, ideas, arts and sciences to the East and West. It has always been known as a famous oasis stop on the ancient trade route--Silk Road between China and Rome. Dunhuang is best known for nearby caves that contain Buddhist frescoes, ritual objects, and documents dating from the 4th to the 12th century AD. These may be the best-preserved examples of Buddhist frescoes in China. Since the first century B.C. when Emperor Han Wudi started to expand the empire westwards, it was an oasis irrigated by the Tang River and began to serve as an important way station on the main trade route between China and Central Asia. In 1986, it is entitled to be "China historical and cultural city".


The historical city of Dunhuang is a renowned tourist city famous for the Mogao Caves. The city landmark is an attractive statue, the idea of which comes from the mural in Mogao Caves, a shrine to the culture and arts of Dunhuang. From Mt. Qilian in the south, Mt. Mazong in the north and desert from east to west, the landform of Dunhuang City is a declining basin-plain from west to northeast, high in the north and south, and low in the middle. The western cities of China, especially those in the desert, are known for their sandstorms, so tourists should protect themselves with glasses, hats and gauze kerchiefs, etc. 

In ancient times, Dunhuang was the center of trade between China and its western neighbors. At that time, it was the most westerly frontier military garrison in China. With the flourishing of trade along the Silk Road, Dunhuang was prompted to become the most open area in international trade in Chinese history. It provided the only access westward for the Chinese Empire and eastward for western nationalities. Today, as a reminder of this historical area, we are left with the Mogao Caves, Yangguan Pass, Yumenguan Pass and many wonderful Chinese poems depicting the time. Although what remains of the two Passes are crumbling walls, one can still experience the atmosphere of that time while visiting in person.


Dunhuang and the Silk Road

The oasis town of Dunhuang was in a fertile area known for its melons and grapes in particular - and because it became a major staging post for traders and for missionary monks and pilgrims of Buddhism and other religions. It was one of the four garrison commentaries that assured Chinese control over the trade routes to the western regions. Dunhuang was considered a place of importance when it was under the control of the Western Xia kingdom (990-1227) and the Mongol Yuan dynasty (1271-1368). From the time of the Han to the end of the Yuan, a most important trade route developed from China to the West, which later became known by the marvelously evocative name, The Silk Road. The ancient traveler leaving China along this road would pass through Dunhuang before braving the many hazards of the journey westwards through East Turkestan (present-day Xinjiang). Dunhuang has a special place in history because of its location close to the parting of the northern and southern routes that skirted the impassable Taklamakan desert. Silk was traded along this seven thousand kilometer braid of caravan trails from China right across Asia to the eastern Roman Empire on the shores of the Mediterranean, and also to south Asia. Persian and Sogdian merchants traveled the whole length, and were such familiar sights in the Chinese capitals Changan (present-day Xian) and Luoyang that they can frequently be found. This route was also used by Buddhist monks from China and Korea traveling west in search of images and scriptures, and by ambassadors and princes from the west making the long journey to China. It was by means of the Silk Road that all manner of exotic imports reached China, as diplomatic gifts or through trade, and mainly in exchange for silks: vessels made of gold and silver and the techniques for working these metals; fine glass; fragrances and spices; exotic animals such as lions and ostriches; new fruits such as grapes; dancers, musicians and their instruments. After the splendors of the Tang dynasty, however, trade along the Silk Road was severely curtailed, and Dunhuang was left in isolation. Later trade between China and Europe was entirely by sea.


Dunhuang’s Today

Today, Dunhuang is a typical tourist city, clean and beautiful. Because of its splendid stone caves, tourism has become an indispensable industry to Dunhuang City. Surrounding establishments include various classes of hotels and restaurants for you to choose. As well, tourism personnel are knowledgeable and well trained these days. For a western city in China, it has become more accessible for people to come and go as they please. Transportation is much more efficient, ensuring that your wonderful trip runs smoothly. May to October is the best time to visit, so be sure to plan your trip during these months. Today, the site is an important tourist attraction and the subject of an ongoing archaeological project.The Mogao Caves became one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1987.

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