Jiayuguan, one of the most grandiose ancient forts on the Silk Road, is a significant fortification on the western section of the Great Wall. The city and fort have their present name from the pass that runs through this area, at the foot of the Jiayu Mountain. This area, not so much the town, is a good place to visit for those, with time on their hands, making their way up to Dunhuang and Xinjiang.
Founded during the Ming dynasty, there was originally just the Fort here, built onto an existing watchtower and completed in 1372. With primitive working tools it took thousands of laborers dozens of years to complete the project. Goats, and even ice, were used to convey building materials to the site. With completion, the fort became the strategic end of the Great Wall, demarcating the apparently advanced east from the allegedly desolate and dangerous west. Many Chinese still feel this way today, even after the completion of the Gansu Expressway.
The town itself grew up around this Fort, thriving from both its protection and location on the Silk Road. Nowadays, however, the town has lost much of its charm, bisected by main roads, including the expressway, and plagued by uninteresting buildings. Most of the sights that tourists will want to see are out of the city, so that the only plus side to stay in the place are views of the snow-capped mountains surrounding it.
Jiayuguan Pass is the first pass at the west end of the Great Wall of China and was built during the Ming dynasty. It is located 6 kilometer southwest of Jiayuguan City at the foot of Jiayuguan Hill, between 2 hills of which the Pass lies, so earned the name "The First and Greatest Pass under the Heaven". This is different from "The First Pass under the Heaven" which is located at the east end of the Great Wall near Qinhuangdao City in Hebei Province.
The Pass is located at the narrowest point of the western section of the Hexi Corridor, and Jiayuguan often has the meaning of 'Nice Valle'. It was also a must point of the ancient Silk Road.
The structure was initially built in 1372 during the Ming dynasty and has a history of more than 600 years. A legend says that when Jiayuguan Pass was to be built, the official in charge of this project asked the designer to count how many bricks and other materials would be used precisely. The designer gave him a specific number. But when the project was finished, one brick was left which was placed on the pass as a symbol of commemoration.
Around Jiayuguan Pass there are many historic sites such as the Mogao Grottoes. Today Jiayuguan Pass is the most intact ancient military building preserved from all the passes on the Great Wall. Many frescos were found in the areas around Jiayuguan Pass.
11 kilometer to the downtown Jiayuguan City and 6.5 kilometer from Jiayuguan Pass, the Overhanging Great Wall was built during the Ming dynasty. Work began on it in 1539, and was completed in the following year. It was built using layer upon layer of stone and yellow earth. In subsequent years, the wall has dwindled from its original length of 1.5 kilometer to its current 750 m.
The Overhanging Great Wall is an extended part of the Jiayuguan Pas, and was once an important component in the medieval military defense system. Winding through the Gobi desert to the steep Black Mountain (Hei Shan), the wall appears to hang over the cliff and block the vital pass of Shiguan Xiakou, which is how it got its name. It is similar in appearance to the grand Badaling Great Wall in Beijing, and is therefore also known as the Western Badaling.
The Overhanging Great Wall was reconstructed in 1987, with sidesteps added to allow visitors to climb the Wall.
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