Ancient Chinese world heritage site faces serious threat from rock falls

Report highlights threat to Maiji Mountain Grottoes from erosion but fails to outline any steps taken to preserve them

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 October, 2017, 3:35pm
UPDATED : Monday, 23 October, 2017, 5:42pm

Many of the caves at China’s Maiji Mountain Grottoes, a world heritage site, are in serious danger of collapsing, according to state media reports.

An assessment found that one in seven of the caves at the site in Gansu in the northwest of the country faced the highest level of risk, Xinhua reported on Sunday.

The grottoes, which lie along the route of the ancient Silk Road, were added to Unesco’s list of world heritage sites in 2014 and are famed for their murals and Buddhist sculptures.

The earliest caves and statues at the site were constructed around 1,600 years ago during the Later Qin era in the time of the 16 Kingdoms.

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The survey was carried out by the local Academy of Grotto Arts, which aimed to document the risks facing the caves and highlight work that needed to be done to preserve and repair the damaged caves.

Yue Yongqiang, deputy director of the academy, said in the report that 32 of the 221 man-made caves were designated at risk level one, meaning they are in serious danger of rock falls that could damage or destroy the frescoes or cause the sculptures to collapse. Xinhua did not provide any details of the condition of the other caves.

The report highlighted the danger from water seepage and weathered rocks that had been weakened by the humidity at the site.

The report did not indicate what immediate measures would be needed to tackle the danger and the site apparently remains open to visitors.

Visitors to the caves have to climb thousands of steps to reach the site, which sits high up on a mountain.

The site is celebrated for its six-metre high Buddha statues and its thousands of brightly painted frescoes and rock carvings.