260m yuan relief project at hand for famed grottoes

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 February, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 February, 2008, 12:00am

The go-ahead has been given for a 260 million yuan plan to protect the fragile, Unesco-listed Mogao Grottoes in Dunhuang, Gansu province, from degradation.

State media reported yesterday that the National Development and Reform Commission had approved a conservation project proposed by the cultural relics bureau in the northwestern province that would create digital displays of the frescoes, protect the site from sandstorms, step up security and rebuild a walkway along the cliffs.

Dunhuang was a trade hub on the Silk Road more than 1,000 years ago during the Sui and Tang dynasties and also became an important religious centre.

The sculptures and murals in the Mogao Grottoes have Buddhist, Islamic and Tibetan influences and the area has become a popular tourist site, with 550,000 people visiting last year, up from about 200,000 in 1998.

Most of the funding for the scheme would be spent on a computer project that caretakers hoped would ease some of the pressure on the frescoes, Xinhua reported.

Thousands of frescoes and Buddhist statues are to be digitally scanned to create a virtual tour for visitors to see before they enter the grottoes, cutting the time they spend inside the real grottoes. Carbon dioxide and moisture from visitors damages the delicate dyed plaster of the murals and statues.

Xinhua quoted officials from the Dunhuang Academy, a research centre based in the city, saying that several key technological issues relating to the digital displays had been resolved and the project would give visitors a better insight into the history, culture and art of the Mogao Grottoes than they could gain from using flashlights and entering them.

They said similar projects would be launched for other sites if the Mogao project succeeded.

The UN cultural body added the Mogao Grottoes to its world heritage list in 1987.