Built during the Ming Dynasty in 1372, Jiayuguan Fort is the crown jewel of the 3,600 kilometers of Wall in Gansu. This mighty fortress embodies the resilience, grandeur and history of the western Great Wall.
With snow-capped mountains at both sides, Jiayuguan protected the pass between Qilianshan and Heishan. This area was regarded as the edge of the civilized world with Jiayuguan as the “Impregnable Defile Under Heaven,” guarding the Chinese empire from the barbarians of the north while also serving as a way station for the Silk Road.
Jiayuguan stands as a premier example of the precise engineering and construction methods of the Ming Dynasty. Legend has it that the Fort’s designer, Hi Shen, calculated the number of bricks he’d need to build Jiayuguan down to the last brick. His overseer insisted Hi Shen order extra materials in case his calculations were wrong. Hi ordered one extra brick, which remained unused at the end of construction and can still be seen on display at Jiayuguan.
Jiayuguan has many nicknames. Literally translated, Jiayuguan means “Excellent Valley Pass.” Is also known as “The First and Greatest Pass Under Heaven.” Others refer to it as “the Impregnable Defile Under Heaven.” Finally, the exiled Chinese of antiquity knew Jiayuguan as Kweimenkwan, “The Gate of the Demons,” where the banished were sent into the desert to face almost certain death.
A UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site since 1987, Jiayuguan Pass is located 4.5 kilometers from the City of Jiayuguan. Visitors are treated to the experience of a lifetime, exploring its three-tiered fortress grounds. The Jiayuguan Museum of the Great Wall is also highly recommended for those seeking a deeper look at Jiayuguan’s history and artifacts.
With many intact examples of towers, barriers and trenches, it is said that the Great Wall in Shandan County is the most well preserved section of the Wall. Spanning over 1,700 years, there are portions of the Wall here built in both the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220) and the Ming Dynasty (1356-1644). The majority of its almost 100 kilometers was constructed in the 16th century, during the reign of Emperor Longqing.
In the province of Gansu, on the far western frontier of China, the First Pier marks the starting point of the Great Wall. Legends abound of the dragon that was said to have marked the Great Wall’s path for builders to follow. To this day, many continue to describe the Wall as a mighty dragon snaking thought China’s northern border. The First Pier is seen as the tail of this dragon, just as Laolongtou on the Wall’s eastern end is the head.
The First Pier of Great Wall is found approximately 7 kilometers west of Jiayuguan Pass on the cliffs of the Taolai River. A beacon tower built in 1539 as part of the Ming Dynasty Wall building campaign, the First Pier was used as a watchtower, observing enemy movements and communicating these observations to other installations along the Wall.
An important access point of the Northern Silk Road, would-be traders were required to pass through Yumenguan Pass in order to hawk their wares.
This “Jade Gate Pass” is the most well preserved section of the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220) Great Wall. Located 90 kilometers west Dunhuang, Yumenguan Pass is a massive structure built of tamped-clay bricks, heavily weathered from 2,000 years in the desert. It’s remarkable how much of the Pass remains intact as Yumenguan was most likely built in 111 BC as part of the establishment of military strongholds along the Hexi Corridor.
The Mogao Caves are a series of 492 cells and grottoes housing thousands of examples of Buddhist art in the form of paintings, statues and murals. Originally built in 366, the Mogao Caves contain artifacts from several dynasties depicting centuries of western Chinese culture. UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site 1987.
6 kilometers south of Dunhuang lies the entrancing beauty of Yueyaquan, the Crescent Moon Lake. Surrounded by striking sand dunes, Crescent Moon Lake is an Oasis in the Gobi Desert. A marvelous pavilion overlooks the lake and its grassy fields and shores.
Known for its colorful sandstone rock formations, which in the right light elicit comparisons to the Grand Canyon, this area is highly regarded as one of the most beautiful landforms in all of China.
One of the largest Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in China with room to house up to 4,000 monks (though currently Labrang limits that number to 1,800). Visitors will discover the sacred beauty and rich history of the Monastery even as the monks of Labrang continue on in their sacred duties of education, training and worship.
Nearly 200 caves cut into the side of Maijishan Mountain housing thousands of Buddhist artifacts and art pieces in an intricate array of caves, stairways and landings. Visitors will marvel at the massive statues carved into the mountain’s face.
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