Jiayu Pass

Western starting point of the Ming Dynasty Great Wall

Jiayu Pass by Bandizi Photographer / TuchongSimatai Great Wall

Where is it?

Jiayu Pass is located in Gansu province in Northwest China. It is famous for being the western end of the Ming Dynasty Great Wall, and for having extremely treacherous terrain. Among the hundreds of majestic passes in the Great Wall, Jiayu Pass is one of the most well preserved.

Jiayu Pass by Cai Xiaoxiang / TuchongSimatai Great Wall

Its history

The area around the pass had been utilized for military purposes for a long time. However, as an independent defensive fort, its history is not very long. In 1372, General Feng Sheng patrolled along the way, and eventually found he liked the area for its easily defendable terrain. Jiayu Pass is surrounded by mountains and rivers, is open on all sides, and is a very suitable site for building a pass. He petitioned the imperial court to abandon Dunhuang and build a Jiayu Pass fortress instead.

Jiayu Pass by Zhixia Nayol / TuchongSimatai Great Wall

The Fortress

The core of the Jiayu Pass defensive fort is its inner keep, with a circumference of 640 meters, a total area of more than 33,500 square meters and a height of about 10.7 meters. Its building materials were rammed earth. 

There are 14 towers built on top of the walls of the inner keep of Jiayu Pass, and 66 defensive platforms surrounding the fort. Along with the nearby Great Wall, platform, moat, beacon and other facilities, it forms a comprehensive military defense system.

Jiayu Pass by TuchongSimatai Great Wall

There is a stone tablet more than three meters tall outside the west gate of Jiayu Pass, which is engraved with the characters "The Most Majestic Pass under Heaven" in neat calligraphy and vigorous brushwork. This monument was written by Li Tingchen, a general of the Qing Dynasty in 1809.

After Zhu Yuanzhang, founding Emperor of the Ming Dynasty adopted a policy of friendly exchange with the nomadic people of northwest China, the Hexi Corridor region maintained peace for a long time. 

General Feng Sheng by DreamCont / TuchongSimatai Great Wall

General Feng Sheng

General Feng Sheng demonstrated himself to be a very competent and capable commander. He achieved many great victories and followed the founding Emperor of the Ming Dynasty for more than ten years. 

Jiayu Pass by Bandizi Photographer / TuchongSimatai Great Wall

The development of the fortress

After more than 160 years of maintenance and construction, during the Jiajing period of the Ming Dynasty, Jiayu Pass became a formidable "impregnable pass".

In 539, Zhai Luan, the Grand Secretariat, inspected the garrison along the Great Wall. He commanded to build walls on both sides of the fort in order to strengthen its overall defense.

Jiayu Pass by GraceChen938 / TuchongSimatai Great Wall

As commanded, Li Han built tall and thick walls from the cliff on the north bank of the Taolai river through Jiayu Pass City, and then north to the cliff of the Black Mountain. In this way, Jiayu Pass defensive fort had two flanks instead of an isolated city. Beyond Jiayu Pass City is the desolate Gobi Desert.

Beyond Jiayu Pass, the melting snow full of mountain soil runs off Qilian Snow Mountain and into the Taolai River.

The "First Pier" of the Great Wall at Jiayu Pass by FinalLap / TuchongSimatai Great Wall

"The First Pier" of the Great Wall

The "First Pier" of the Great Wall was built in 1539, it's 7.5 kilometers south of the defensive fort. It is the westernmost abutment of the Ming Dynasty Great Wall. To the west of the first abutment is the vast Gobi. To the north it's connected with the magnificent Jiayu Pass, and to the south the rolling hills of Qilian Snow Mountain.

Jiayu Pass by Sanxia Saoke489 / TuchongSimatai Great Wall

During the Ming Dynasty, there were many small-scale conflicts in the Jiayu Pass but mainly business travels. The Ming Dynasty strengthened its political ties and cultural exchanges with the Western Regions through economic and trade exchanges. Trade exchanges between the mainland East and West reached its peak during the Han and Tang Dynasties, until the Ming Dynasty when it declined but did not cease. Throughout the Ming Dynasty, for a long time camel bells echoed along the Silk Road.

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