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Home > Destinations > Gansu > Dunhuang


Dunhuang is a city in Jiuquan, Gansu province, China. It is sited in an oasis.

Dunhuang was made a prefecture in 117 BC by Emperor Han Wudi, and was a major point of interchange between ancient China and Central Asia during the Han and Tang dynasties. Located in the western end of the Hexi Corridor near the historic junction of the Northern and Southern Silk Roads, it was a town of military importance. Its name is mentioned as part of the homeland of the Yuezhi or "Rouzhi" (nomadic people living in the Western Regions during the Han Dynasty ) in the Shiji (The Book of History), but this mention has also been identified with an unrelated toponym, Dunhong.

Early Buddhist monks accessed Dunhuang via the ancient Northern Silk Road, the northernmost route of about 2,600 kilometres (1,600 mi) in length, which connected the ancient Chinese capital of Xi'an to the West over the Wushao Ling Pass to Wuwei and emerging in Kashgar.  For centuries Buddhist monks at Dunhuang collected scriptures from the West, and many pilgrims passed through the area, painting murals inside the Mogao Caves or "Caves of a Thousand Buddhas."  A small number of Christian artifacts have also been found in the caves (see Jesus Sutras), testimony to the wide variety of people who made their way along the silk road. Today, the site is an important tourist attraction and the subject of an ongoing archaeological project. A large number of manuscripts and artifacts retrieved at Dunhuang have been digitized and made publicly available via the International Dunhuang Project. Edges of the city are threatened with being engulfed by the expansion of the Kumtag Desert, which is resulting from longstanding overgrazing of surrounding lands.

Dunhuang is landlocked, and, surrounded by high mountains, has an arid, continental climate. The annual average temperature is 9.3 °C (48.7 °F), but ranges from 24.7 °C (76.5 °F) in July to  - 9.3 °C (15 °F) in January. Dunhuang is extremely hot in summer and bitterly cold in winter. Only a marginal amount of precipitation falls, and even that is quickly dried by evaporation

Dunhuang City Center
Dunhuang's city centre is relatively highly developed, including much commercial activity and many hotels. Bookshops and other souvenir shops sell materials relating to the Caves and the history of the region. The Dunhuang County Museum contains a number of Chinese and Tibetan items such as manuscripts, paintings, coins and statues. The Dong Dajie night market is held in the city centre, popular with tourists. Many souvenir items are sold, including such typical items as jade, jewelry, scrolls, hangings, small sculptures, and the like. A sizable number of members of China's ethnic minorities engage in business at these markets. A Central Asian dessert or sweet is also sold, consisting of a large, sweet confection made with nuts and dried fruit, sliced into the portion desired by the customer.

Nearby Attractions
Crescent Lake and Echoing-Sand Mountain (Mingsha Shan)
These attractions are essentially part of the same area. The lake is an oasis surrounded by high sand dunes. The Mingsha Shan is so named for the sound of the wind whipping off the dunes, the singing sand phenomenon. The area is very popular with tourists, the great majority of them Chinese. A street lined with souvenir stalls leads up to the entrance to the complex. Most tourists ride camels, organized by the complex operators, to reach the sand dunes. Typically the camels are guided by local camel guides, who include both women and men. At the dunes, a popular activity for tourists is to ride sleds down the sand slopes, much like snow-sledding during winter in temperate zones. Alongside Crescent Lake is a pagoda in traditional Han Chinese architecture.

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