Located on the northwestern side of Gobi desert, a huge desert area sitting between China and Mongolia, Fresco Tombs of Wei and Jin Dynasty are only 20 kilometers away from the city of Jiayuguan, precisely between Xincheng (Jiayuguan’s suberb) and Dingjazha (Jiuquan’s suburb). First discovered in 1972, the tombs’ site covers an area of more than 30 square kilometers and is believed to hold around 1600 tombs.
However, only ten have come to light so far. The tombs’ interior is covered with amazing fresco paintings which predate the Mogaokou frescos discovered in Dunhuang, as they date back to Wei and Jin Dynasties (220-420). The frescos are of great beauty and historical value and China’s National Post uses a picture of such an image as its logo.
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Most of the tombs that have been unearthed are family tombs where the whole family has been buried together. Each tomb has three chambers connected to each other by arched passageways. There are two vaulted and an arched burial chamber. Both sides of the vaulted chambers are equipped with a small kitchen, a storehouse, a sheep fold and even a parking space for a carriage!
Tombs are placed about 10 meters under the ground. Unfortunately nowadays only tomb number six and tomb number seven are open to the public and a small museum has been built near to them. Tomb number six is the tomb of an official and therefore has been built and decorated with great care, making it the best example out of the tombs that have been excavated so far. Tomb number five has been detached and reconstructed in Gansu Provincial Museum; however, it is also closed for the public at the moment.
The interior of the tombs has been highly and carefully decorated. Inside doors carry paintings or carvings and the floors have been paved with ornamented bricks. Walls are made out of bricks which have been painted with colorful and exceptionally detailed fresco images; therefore the tombs’ site is also known as “Underground Gallery”.
Each chamber is layered with three to five lines of bricks but there have also been some which carry even up to ten lines. More than 700 different bricks have been discovered so far. Frescos have been painted by brush and carry images of the deceased’s everyday life. The paintings display almost every daily activity in Jin and Wei Dynasties, giving the site the alternate name of Encyclopedia of the Road of Silk. Pictures of labor activities such as farming, hunting and riding, entertainment like playing chess and cultural events, as well as scenes referring to military and politics of that time make the bricks valuable items in historical research.
The frescos are believed to have been painted by local professional artists, and the style of the paintings is very similar to the one of the Mogaoku frescos discovered in cave number 249 in Dunhuang. Early images seem to be of lower quality with less detail and less vivid colors. It is believed that it was an art which grew throughout the years and reached perfection at the time when the most recent tombs were decorated.