The Passes Of the Greatwall

The Shanhaiguan Pass

Located in the northeast of Qinhuangdao city, Hebei Province, the Shanhaiguan pass was built in 1381, having a total length of about 26 km. It is the northeast starting point of the Ming Great Wall, and is also the estuary of the Great Wall. Situated in a strategically important and difficult to access mountain terrain, the Shanhaiguan pass is the only passageway between the north and the northeast of China and it has been an important military hub since ancient times.

Since ancient tomes,the Shanhaiguan pass has always enjoyed the reputation of being the “Number One Pass under Heaven”.It was a fortress-pass and its plane was a square.The Shanhaiguan pass was a fortress with a relatively comprehensive defense system.On each side of the square fortress there is a gate built in the east,west,north and south directions and a tower is built on the top of each gate. Among them the most spectacular one is the east gate hanging inside the plaque of the “Number One Pass under Heaven”. The gate enceintes were built separately outside the east and west gates. Outside the fortress, there were other sturdy ancient fortifications such as the moat around the city.

The Shanhaiguan Pass is also an ancient city of culture. The architecture of the Ming Dynasty has been well preserved, and most of the main streets and alleys remain intact, such as the branch department of the Military of Defense, shipping and delivery office and the garrison department inside the east gate; the Shanhaiwei, the Cha Yuan, the drill ground, etc. in northwest of the city; two famous memorial archways inscribed respectively with “Lane of Branch Department of the Military of Defense” and “Number One Pass of Northeast” in the Main East Street, the Bell and Drum Tower in the center of the street, etc. There are a number of Siheyuan ( a compound with folk houses around a square courtyard) which makes the ancient city seems more simple and elegant.

The Dajingmen Great Wall

Located in north of Zhangjiakou City, Hebei Province, the Dajingmen Great Wall was built in 1485, having a total length of about 4 km. In the first year of the Shunzhi reign (1644), Emperor Shunzhi ordered to build a brick arch which was 12 meters high, 9 meters wide, 13 meters long at the bottom, with rectangular stone slabs as the foundation and named “Dajingmen”. The Dajingmen Great Wall is situated between the East and the West Taipingshan mountains, built along the mountain ridges stretching to the east and west. With its perilous topography, the Dajingmen Great Wall was an important military defense pass and if was also one of the important barriers guarding Beijing since ancient times. It had always been contested by strategists. Therefore, the Dajingmen pass, together with Shanhaiguan, Jiayuguan and Juyongguan are called “Four Important Passes of the Great Wall”. Among the passes, the Dajingmen Great Wall was the only one named with “men” (means gate), known as “The First Gate of Ten-Thousand-li Great wall”.

The Dajingmen is a brick arch built with rectangular stone slabs as the foundation. The gate-wall was 12 meters high, 13 meters long at the bottom and 9 meters wide, with two iron-plate covered wooden doors. On the top there is a platform, 12 meters long, 7.5 meters wide, surrounded by 1.7-meter-high crenels and 0.8-meter tall parapet walls.

The Dajingmen Great Wall not only has important military significance, but also served as a vital communication line, connecting the frontier and the hinterland. It was also a port of communication and border trade between the Mongolian and the Han peoples playing a significant role in promoting the trade between the frontier and the hinterland. In ancient times, it had witnessed the scene of war flames and smoke of gunpowder, and also the scene of prosperity with swarming merchants.

The Jiayuguan Pass

Located in the southwest of the Jiayuguan City, Gansu Province, the Jiayuguan pass was first built in 1372, with a total length about 60 km, which was the starting point of the Ming Great Wall in the west. The terrain of Jiayuguan was strategically advantageous. The Jiayuguan pass has been an important military pass and the only passageway of the Silk Road since ancient times, known as “The Number One Pass of Hexi”.

The Jiayugaun pass had become the most spectacular fort pass along the Great Wall after 168 years of continuous construction. The entire fort pass was laid out rationally and constructed properly. Taking advantage of the natural topography, the fort pass was well prepared both for offensive and defensive. It had built up a relatively integrated defense system and had always enjoyed the reputation of being the “Number One Impregnable Pass under Heaven” since ancient times. The location of the fort pass was in the central part of the narrowest valley in the Qilian mountains, and the fort pass was built on the highest elevation of the Jiayu mountain, so it was named after the mountain.

The Jiayuguan pass was built along the alignment of the mountains, lying in the vast Gobi Desert. The walls were connected with mountains in the east and west, and two main tower gates were built on each side, Guanghuamen in the east and Rouyuanmen in the west. The plaque with characters “Number One Impregnable Pass under Heaven” was hanging above the west gate. Outside the gates there built Luocheng and Wengcheng. The three characters of Jiayuguan (in Chinese) were hanging on the lintel of Luocheng outside the west gate. In addition, two-storied turrets, watchtowers, embrasured watchtowers, towers with lock-gates, etc. and other rugged ancient fortifications were built in the four corners of the fort.

The inner side of the Jiayuguan wall was 9 meters high, the outer side was 1.7 meters higher with Duoqiang(wall).The lower part of the wall was built with adobe. After more than 600 years, although some of the ramparts have been falling off, but most of them remain solid. The Loess used for construction must be carefully filtered and processed first then put it under strong sunshine to kill the plant seeds mixed with loess. Under the northern part of the Jiayuguan Great Wall, a piece of stone “Work Card of the Great Wall” was unearthed which documented in detail about the division of labor while building the Great Wall at that time. It was said that when the construction project was completed, it had to pass through strict acceptance examination. At first, to shoot the wall with arrows in a certain distance away from the wall, if the arrow could not shoot in, then it had proved that the wall was solid and qualified. If the arrow did shoot into the wall, then it had proved that the project had failed and it had to be rebuilt.

The Yumenguan Pass

The Yumenguan Pass is situated in the northwest of Dunhuang City, Gansu Province, standing erect on a gravel hill in a narrow strip running from east to west in the Gobi Desert, with saline and alkaline marsh land in the south and Hala Lake in the near north. It was first built at the time when Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty opened the traffic to the Western Regions. The name of Yumenguan (Yu means Jade) was given because of bringing in jade from the Western Region via this pass. Yumenguan was not only the gateway to the Western Region, but also an important military pass in Han Dynasty.

The side of the Yumenguan Pass today is a small square fort which was entirely built with rammed loess and stones or adobes laid with tamarisk trees and reeds between the layers. The wall of the fort is from north to south, which is the best preserved section of the Han Dynasty Great Wall. On the top of the rem part, there was a footpath 13 meters wide around the fort and there were “inner” and “outer” parapets. In the southeast corner, there was a horse path less than 1 meters wide, going along the east wall, turning south and upwards, then directly reaching the top. The fort opened gates both in the north and west, which were similar to an earth cave. The walls were meandering to the east and west of the fort without ends. The square beacon towers were built at every 5-10 li (1km=2 li) intervals and around them there left clear remains of houses.

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