Carving a protective niche for Silk Road's caves

A new project aims to ease human pressure on Mogao grottoes but how much will people pay?

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 January, 2013, 4:21am

The ancient Silk Road and digital technology would appear to be worlds and millennia apart but a new project is bringing the two together in the name of preservation.

The crown jewels of the former trading route are the Mogao Caves in Dunhuang, Gansu province, which contain some of the finest examples of Buddhist art.

Statues and wall paintings, created over a period of more than 1,000 years, adorn the nearly 500 alcoves and caves at the World Heritage listed-site.

The site has been a tourist hotspot for decades but the caves are becoming a victim of their own success, with the breath of thousands of visitors wafting into grottoes each day.

The emissions, as well as the constant camera flashes, threaten to do serious damage to the paintings, which have darkened over the years. As a result, only a small number of caves are open to the public.

But White Collar has heard of a project involving IT services company PCCW Solutions that promises to give visitors greater access to more of the site's heritage.

The Dunhuang Academy China awarded the company a contract two years ago to design and install digital theatre systems at the Dunhuang Mogao Caves Visitor Centre.

The project is expected to be completed by the end of this year and will have four digital theatres to entertain up to 6,000 visitors a day.

The theatres will give the visitors a close look at images of the paintings in caves closed off to the public. Some of the theatres have a dome, giving a more realistic approximation of the off-limits world.

The digital experience will ensure the visitors leave with an overview of most of the major paintings, and reduce the pressure to open more of the real caves to the public.

It's all part of an attempt to balance preservation of the Unesco heritage site and the needs of tourists.

Of course, not all visitors will be happy to just look at the images in the theatres but responsible visitors should support the measure and help protect the heritage for future generations to enjoy.

How much will visitors need to pay for the viewing at the theatres?

It is not yet finalised but if the cost is high, it will bring into question how many tourists will be willing to pay to support conservation.