Dunhuang along the Silk Road
Buddhist monks used the routes along the Taklamakan Desert via Kashgar and Kucha, or via Khotan. To the east, where the southern route joined the northern, lay the caravan city of Dunhuang. From thence they reached the old Chinese capitals of Xian and Luoyang via the Gansu Corridor. Monks just outside Dunhuang starting carving temples in the cliffs; these are now known as the “Mogao Caves” or the “Grottos of a Thousand Buddhas.” Between the 4th and the 14th centuries, they created 492 grotto temples decorated inside with frescos, covering a total surface area of 45,000 m2, and containing around 50,000 Buddhist images. There they also collected and preserved thousands of manuscripts, canonical works, administrative documents, silk paintings and other treasures. This immense library was hidden behind a wall in the 11th century.
The British archeologist Aurel Stein, with the cooperation of India, undertook three expeditions to Dunhuang and environs at the beginning of 1900. He brought thousands of manuscripts with him. After him came French, German, Russian and Japanese expeditions. In this way the overwhelming treasure trove of early texts and documents was brought to light in its entirety. It is evident, from the many languages in which the manuscripts were written (Chinese, Sanskrit, Sogdian, Tibetan, Tocharian, Turkish, Uigur), that Dunhuang was an international center of study on the Silk Route over a thousand years ago.
In this exhibition you will see several objects from the expeditions of Aurel Stein: a polychrome statuette of a monk, a drinking bottle in terracotta, an embroidered silk fragment with a depiction of the “Thousand Buddhas” and a commercial document on a wooden plank written in an old Indian script, Kharoshti.