Situated near the oasis town of Dunhuang at the edge of the Gobi Desert in China's Gansu province, 1,770 kilometers (1,100 miles) west of Beijing, the Mogao grottoes were designated a World Heritage Site in 1987. In the age of the Silk Road, Dunhuang was a major crossroads for the caravan routes to the west. For a thousand years, beginning in the 4th century, Chinese Buddhists carved an extensive series of grottoes along the site's 1.6 kilometers (1 mile) of cliff face. Today there remain more than 490 grottoes containing wall paintings covering 45,000 square meters (484,000 square feet), making Mogao the largest single collection of Buddhist mural art in China.

The carved rock grotto caves of China—as well as of India, Korea, Japan, and southeast Asia—constitute an important category of cultural sites whose similar attributes derive from shared historical and religious traditions. The dry climate of the region has preserved many cultural monuments that require the attention of the conservation community if they are to survive modern development.

"Conservation of Ancient Sites on the Silk Road: Second International Conference on the Conservation of Grotto Sites," co-organized by the Getty Conservation Institute and the Dunhuang Academy, under the aegis of the State Administration of Cultural Heritage, China, was a follow-up to the 1993 conference. The purpose of the conference was to provide a forum for the latest ideas, experiences, methods, techniques, and research findings on the conservation and management of grotto sites.

Several hundred experts from 18 countries exchanged new ideas, experiences, methods, and findings derived from research and field work at Mogao grottoes and other Silk Road or earthen sites around the world. Over 80 papers were presented, addressing the following topics: principles, practices, and training in wall paintings conservation; site and visitor management issues; scientific research in conservation, with a particular focus on deterioration processes, and on the environmental and geotechnical aspects of conservation; and historical and art historical research of relevance to Silk Road sites and their conservation. The Getty and the Dunhuang Academy disseminated the results of the last 10 years of their collaborative work, particularly in Cave 85, a Tang-dynasty grotto. Discussion was also devoted to the newly adopted "Principles for the Conservation of Heritage Sites in China", a set of guidelines developed by the Chinese authorities with assistance from the GCI and the Australia Heritage Commission, that aim at improving the management of China's cultural sites. A 10-day post-conference tour visited Silk Road sites in and around Kuqa and Turpan, Xinjiang province.

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