Bezeklik Thousand Buddha Caves

Bizaklik Thousand Buddha Caves

Useful Information

Location: 56 km northeast of Turpan. (42.955489, 89.539675)
Classification: SubterraneaCave Church, Buddhist cave temples
Guided tours:  
Bibliography: Albert von Le Coq (): Buried Treasures of Chinese Turkestan,
Address: Bezeklik Thousand Buddha Caves, Tel: +86-, Fax: +86-,
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
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317-589 first cave built during Northern and Southern dynasties.
1279-1368 last caves built during Yuan dynasty.
1905 murals removed by Albert von Le Coq.
1961 became cultural spot under State protection.


Bezeklik Thousand Buddha Caves are 77 artificial caves, 40 of them contain murals of thousands of Buddhas. Bezeklik means "place where there are paintings" in the Uigur language. At this place is also the Royal Temple of the King of Huigu, which was built by the Xizhou Huigu government of the Gaochang Kingdom. The caves are located in the cliff face of a long ridge of rather soft stone, which once had a monastery at its foot, an important center for Buddhist worship. A steep stairway lead 10 m up to a narrow and winding path to the cliff top. The caves were built along this path. Today there is a broad walkway which allows easy access to the caves.

The caves are often rectangular rooms with a round arch ceiling. This ceiling is divided into quadratic fields, each of them containing the piture of a buddha. So the whole ceiling contains virtually hundreds of buddhas. Some larger fields contain a big buddha, surrounded by other figures and scenes. Other murals show people of the area, including Indians, Persians and Caucasians. As often with this kind of religious paintings, some are rather naive, others are artistically stunning, depending on the ability of the artist. Soem faces show the individual characteristics and the inner feelings of the figures.

Some of the thousand year old murals are in superb condition, but unfortunately many others have either been destroyed by local Muslims or by foreign adventurer-explorers. The latter obviously did not destroy them, they removed them and took them to foreign countries, where thy now can be seen in several museum. There are some traces of high quality murals, which are almost completely destoyed. In order to prevent further destructions, some caves are protected by glas walls in front of the walls.

Although called a destroyer of paintings by some today, Albert von Le Coq and Theodor Bartus were the discoverers and conservers of the paintings. They discovered and explored the caves around 1905. It took half a century until the Chinese government startet to protect the place by declaring it a cultural spot under State protection.

At the begin of the 20th century it was common to save archaeological discoveries by removing them and relocating them to museums all over the world. In this case many murals are now in the collection of the Museum für Indische Kunst (Museum of Indian Art), Staatliche Museen at Berlin, Germany.