founder of the Dynasty, the construction of a large scale Fortress Citadel was commenced at JiaYu Pass changing the status of the local Town from Desert Oasis Town into a small township engaged in local trading, agriculture and catering to the needs of the military garrisons stationed at the fort.
During the entire reign period of the Ming existing border defenses of the Great Wall of China remaining from the Han Dynasty and Tang Dynasty Years were upgraded and new sections of wall were added all along the Northern Borders in an attempt to create an undefeatable border defense. As for JiaYuGuan, the Huge Fortress was built exactly in the Center of the 17 kilometer wide Jiayu Pass, in the gullet named JiaYu, located between Hei Shan and the Yuquan Spring Lake Oasis. This huge bastion was meant to prevent any further Mongol incursions. Travelers on the Silk Road would have only one road through
Depiction of JiaYuGuan Settlement protected by the Defenses of the Great Wall and the Gate Lock Fortress of the Ming Dynasty Era.
This page was last updated on: July 26, 2017
The JiaYuGuan Report
History of JiaYuGuan
"Tracing Marco Polo's Northern Route"
( no longer available )
The beautiful Photo-Journey of Wang Miao and Shi Baoxiu, all the way from the Pamir Highlands in Central Asia, through North China to Beijing along the Silk Northern Route. A jewel of a Book !!
A Satellite image of China and East-Asia, with a super-imposed schematic Map of the location and Path of the Great Wall as constructed during the Reign of the Ming Dynasty. Included for reference are City names, geographical features
of landscape, Names and locations of Passes on the Great Wall on the Great Wall of China.
Please browse around the City of JiaYuGuan and wider Area using our Geographic & Historic Maps. Overview JiaYuGuan City and Surrounding Area's, then find out more by Linking through to our many Photographic Reports on the main Historic landmarks and Monuments of JiaYuGuan, and their rich history.
Sound Bonus: "Theme from The Silk Road", by Kitaro.
JiaYuGuan is a small provincial city in the Far West of West-China's Gansu Province with a Long History of more than 2000 years. Today a modestly sized dusty Heavy Industrial Town in the Gobi Desert rocklands, JiaYuGuan City has an important name in history and is one of the important destinations on the Silk Road in China.
Source Book "Journey to The West (3 Parts)"
( no longer available )
At the advent of the Ming Dynasty the Ming armies chased the remaining forces of Mongolian Yuan Dynasty to the far corners of the Empire. Already by 1368 AD, in 1st Year of the Hongwu First Reign of the Dynasty, a Ming army led by General Feng Sheng managed to drive the last of the Mongol armies from the Hexi Corridor and the JiaYuGuan Region, thus pushing them outside of the strategic JiaYu Pass and Chinese Borders. The Ming Empire was secured, for the Time being. But what for the Future ?
The Ming had vowed to get rid of the Barbarian Mongol Invaders and now they had done so, they needed to see that they could never return. Extensive constructions were undertaken on the earlier neglected defenses of the Great Wall of China along the entire length of the Northern Borders. Among the Great Works planned in defense was a giant stop-plug Fortress to defend the JiaYu Pass and make it impassable for any army.
The Construction of the Great Wall of China would continue throughout the years of the Ming Dynasty, until their final demise in 1644 AD. During this Era, JiaYu Guan would be known as the Last Pass in the West in China, an impenetrable Fortress under the Rule of Heaven, dispensed through their Emperor. The total length of the city wall of the Time was 733 meters and the height of the Wall 11 meters. The Old City of Jiayuguan, mainly represented by today's Fortress had three defense lines: an inner city, an outer city, and a moat connected in the North and South to the Great Wall of China. In the middle stood the Fortress with Gates in the West and East, the only passage through the Pass.
Throughout the long years of the Ming Dynasty, the JiaYuGuan fortress was the Key to protecting the last frontier of the Chinese Empire. It was the outermost frontier of the Empire where only traders and soldiers would venture. Those who were condemned into Exile were sent off from the Fortress West Gate into the Deserts, Mountains and Dangers that lay beyond.
JiaYuGuan's renowned Extended Arm or Overhanging Great Wall of China with its 45% inclinations.
Gansu Map 1 - Geographical Overview Map of Gansu Province and Neighboring Regions. Includes Main Cties, Villages of Interest, Main Monuments and Sites and Main Mountains with Heights in Meters.
JiaYuGuan derives its place in history not from its grand size but from its strategic location inside the Hexi Corridor.
The Hexi Corridor is strategic mountain pass corridor which gives access from Central Asia, along the Tarim River, through Gansu Province and its Capital Lanzhou, directly to the Central Provinces of China. Located in between the Qilian Mountain Range in the South and the Mazhong (Horse's Manes) Mountains in the North, the Hexi Corridor begins around Dunhuang in West Gansu Province from where it travels south-eastward via JiaYuGuan and Wuwei to Lanzhou to end at the Yellow River. Thus the Hexi Corridor forms an easily traveled natural highway between otherwise impassable mountains. In history this bottleneck was an unavoidable stop-over on the Silk Road and has been known as a vital crossroads and communication point of Cultures.
JiaYuGuan as a City, was at first a settlement on the Silk Road, an encampment near an oasis which was located in the narrowest part of the Hexi Corridor Pathway. Named JiaYu Guan, during the First Reign of Ming Dynasty, the Cities name later became synonymous with the Grand Fortress and Bastion at the End of the Great Wall of China in the Far West, a Fortress that was built to block the entrance
of the Hexi Corridor from Invasions by the notorious Nomadic Tribes that lived beyond. As the home of one of the Three Main Fortresses on the Great Wall; Shanhai Guan in the East, JiYongGuan near Beijing, and JiaYu Guan in the West, the City is known throughout China and gained historic fame as the "Magnificent Pass Under Heaven" for the rugged beauty of its far flung location.
Not much is known about the early history of JiaYuGuan and its inhabitants. Archeological finds so far have proven that there was some kind of settlement here in this wide corridor between the Qilian Mountains to the South and the Mazhong Mountains to the north since at least during Han Dynasty times (206 BC - 220 AD).
During the Han Dynasty Era, the Han Chinese culture emerged for the first time from the Hexi Corridor to Conquer lands in the Tarim River Basin. It was lengthy affair full of secret missions, alliances with Oasis Kingdoms and intrigue. After a first opening
of a Silk trading Road west was established, the settlement at JiaYuGuan was one of the farthest Han Outpost in the Empire. In fact, although the Oasis Kingdoms of the Tarim River Basin would eventually be allied or conquered by the Han turning the Tarim Basin into a Chinese Protectorate, competition with the Xiong-Nu Nomadic Tribes in Mongolia was fierce. War frequently raged in the West, with the Han Garrisons at Dunhuang, as well as JiaYuGuan regularly being cut off from communications and left to fight the enemy and fend for themselves alone.
The encampment at the Time was built around a water source, a resource vital for both Man and Animal. JiaYu Guan, the pass at the narrowest point of the Mountain Pass Highway had such a water source in the shape of an Oasis Lake, the spring lake oasis,
which is now located underneath the Fortress. Another water
source is available from the TaoLai River in the South however it runs through a steep Gorge, making it difficult to access.
During his Reign Period, Emperor Wu Di (Reign: 141 BC - 87 BC) of the Han ordered the constructions of Roads, as well as the opening of a postal route between the far western regions of the Hexi Corridor plus the Tarim River Basin and the Interior Provinces. Four Administrative Districts were set up within the Hexi Corridor Region, confirming the importance of the Area's as well as making them official part of the Han Empire. From the Reign of Wu Di onwards, the Han Chinese would push westward from their base in the "Throat of China", the Hexi Corridor, to conquer substantial parts of the West. In fact, Military expeditions would roam the emerging Silk Road as far away as the Caspian Sea and North of Lake Baikal.
In this Era massive garrisons with families in tow were sent to the
The Han Dynasty Great Wall was made of rammed earth, not brick and has disappeared over time due to erosion.
After the Han Dynasty fell there was the Three Kingdoms period of which the Wei Kingdom included this part of Gansu Province. After the Three Kingdoms period the western Jin Dynasty ruled the Land until around 316 AD. More than a thousand tombs dating from the Wei (220 AD -265 AD) and Western Jin (265 AD-316) dynasties are scattered around in the extensive desert lands surrounding JiaYuGuan. Many of them have been studied yielding new insights into Han, Wei- & Jin Dynasty life as well as the spread of Chinese Powers and Culture into the West. In recent years, a few of the excavated Tombs have been opened to the Public as a modest Museum of Wei & Jin Dynasty Tombs. Many Tombs remain untouched and awaiting study.
During the early Tang Dynasty Era (618 AD - 907 AD) the Famed Monk Xuanzang, who is credited with bringing vital knowledge of Buddhism from India into Chinese Civilization, passed through JiaYuGuan. He did so around 630 AD, when he was on his way from Chang'An (on the outskirts of current day Xian in Shaanxi Province), the Tang Dynasty Capital and largest City in the world at the Time to far away India. In fact, on his way along the Silk Road Xuanzang’s itinerary included Lanzhou, the vital crossing point at the yellow river and starting point of the Hexi Corridor in eastern Gansu Province and Dunhuang in far west Gansu Province where Xuanzang left the safeness of the Chinese Empire through the Jade Gate (YuMen) at the North End of the Hexi Corridor. His Journey went on through Turpan and Khotan in Xinjiang-Uygur AR, to move via Bamiyan in Afghanistan on to Bodhgaya, North India, site of the Buddha’s Enlightenment.
During the early years of the long Tang Dynasty Reign, no one Chinese was allowed to travel further west than Dunhuang and the Jade Gate by Imperial Decree. The Tang had recently secured the Western Regions between Ningxia and JiaYu Pass, and around Dunhuang and beyond Battles frequently raged between Tang Dynasty Forces and the numerous Nomadic Tribes living beyond. Regardless, the eager Monk snuck out the Jade Pass.
During the Yuan Dynasty Years (1125 AD to 1234 AD) the situation for JiaYuGuan City and pass was completely reversed. From a Border Town in a frequently disputed area, the Town suddenly became a small Oasis City laying at the Center of worlds largest Empire. Still the only crossable point on a highway into one of the oldest and largest Civilizations in the Area, Cathay, JiaYuGuan was no longer a border between Nations and Civilization but a stop-over point on a busy intercultural
Schematic Map of the many sub-pathways of the Silk Road in China clearly showing the one-unavoidable pathway of the Hexi Corridor.
- Mouse over Image -
In 1961 AD, the JiaYu Pass Fortress and Great Wall ruins were included in the First National List of Important Cultural Heritage to be protected under National Law.
The City of JiaYuGuan was First established as a Municipality in 1965 AD when it was only a modest town. At the end of the Cultural Revolution in 1978 AD, the veil of Time was lifted from the ancient Oasis City on the Silk Road and due to its historic
After the Fall of the Ming Dynasty in 1644 AD, the new Manchu Emperors of the Ching Dynasty showed a special interest in the western frontiers. Soon after powers of the new Dynasty had been internally secured, the Manchu Armies surged into the border area's on massive campaigns. Mainly during the Reign of the Qianlong Emperor (Reign 1735 - 1796 AD) of the Dynasty the Far West was secured. It was under the Ching Dynasty that JiaYuGuan received new administrative post, becoming the official end of the Qing Empire. The lands beyond, would be known as Xinjiang, or new Territories and would resort under the Rule of a Special Military Governor, who directly reported to the Emperor, but was otherwise free to handle affairs, laying the first administrative basis of autonomous regions in China today. JiaYuGuan and then Dunhuang would remain the official last Cities in the West until the very end of the Ching Dynasty in 1911 AD.
highway full of interesting exchanges. Due to Religious Tolerance of the Mongol Rulers, as well as various allegiances of Nomadic Tribes in the Area that allowed for free trade and travel, the period saw an influx of ethnic groups into Chinese Territories. And then there was the Rise of the Muslim Empire of the West, the realm of the Khwarezmian Shah Muhammad combining the Arabian Peninsula, North Africa and Persia into one.
The partial conquest of this Muslim Empire by the Yuan opened significant possibilities for the Central Asian as well as Maritime Trade Routes, making the later Yuan Dynasty Era the first Time when the Chinese Civilization truly became international. That is, in each bazaar of each main City, the Han and other Chinese could now buy products not only from Central Asia and from Europe beyond. There was also an abundance of goods traded from the Arabian Peninsula and the Nations of the Indian Ocean.
It was during this Era that the first Europeans managed to Travel overland through Central Asia to the Far East. William of Rubruck ended up in the wild lands of Mongolia, however Marco Polo took a more Southern Route. Marco Polo traveled to China through the inevitable Hexi Corridor, coming from Kashgar through the South Route along the Taklamakan into Dunhuang at the far west end of the Hexi Corridor in Gansu Province. Marco was impressed with the
the defenses of the Pass, through the East Gate into the Fortress and out of China through the Western Gate (and Vice Versa). Inside of the Fortress one was protected by three layers of Defense, as well as by the Great Wall of China immediately to The North. Beyond the Three layers of defense, east of the Fortress lay the small settlement of JiaYuGuan, on the banks of the Yuquan Spring Lake Oasis.
The new fortress and Great Wall were made of brick and were to last throughout centuries.
After the construction of the Fortress, the nearby town became known as “Jiayuguan,” which means “Barrier of the Pleasant Valley” and JiaYuGuan City became the Capital of small JiaYuGuan Prefecture.
Qilian Mt Range
Map Trade Routes in Asia in the 13Th Century
A Schematic Map of the Eurasian Trade Routes existing in the 13Th Century. Clearly marked in Red Accent on the Map are the cities of the network of land-bound trading routes through Central Asia known as the Silk Road (the path of Marco Polo and others). Marked in Blue Accent are the Main Ports and Harbors of the Maritime Trade Routes that operated between the Arabian Peninsula and the Red Sea, the Indian Ocean and Coastal Cities, the Straights of Malacca, the South-China Sea's and beyond. As shown, Maritime Trade to China mainly entered through Southern Harbors, then was distributed internally by use of the Grand Canal, the Yangtze River and the Yellow River.
Map includes the Route traveled by Marco Polo, William of Rubruck and John of Pian de Carpine, the three famed European Travelers of the Time.
Locations of Main Trading Ports and Cities on Trade Routes of the Time are marked.
In the succeeding years the Tang would be victorious and their Empire would extend far beyond the JiaYu Pass and the Hexi Corridor. The Silk Trading Routes were restored to China and to protect it and the long Northern Border, the Tang Dynasty rulers restarted constructions on The Great Wall of China. JiaYuGuan was protected by the Tang Dynasty Great Wall defenses, and the Wall lead westwards far further. Under the Tang the ancient Wall would reach its longest Length in History, extending all the way to the Sands of the Taklamakan Desert where Lop Nur, at the time a large lake with a thriving City Kingdom, was the end station of a wall constructed of rammed earth and reed mats. At the High Point of Powers the Borders of Tang Empire itself lay even farther away, beyond the "Iron Gate", west of Kashgar in the Pamir Mountains and as far away as the south shores of the Baikal Lake and the Caspian Sea in Central Asia.
The Monk Xuanzhang traveled for long years, finally returning to Tang China with the treasure of the knowledge of Buddhism. Although having broken an Imperially decreed travel ban, Xuanzhang was welcomed back a Hero and treated with High regards and Honors by the Court. Translating the scriptures
Mogao Caves in Dunhuang and he visited the Big Buddha Temple in Zhangye, however there are no records of his actual passing through the JiaYu Pass. The JiaYu Pass of the Time was only an Oasis Lake and encampment, bare of Cultural Treasures. Although since Han Dynasty days, successive Dynasties such as the Q'In, Wei and Jin, Tang and Northern Wei had ordered work on The Great Wall of China, no fortress or garrison was stationed at the Pass in Yuan Dynasty Times.
Khanbalik (Beijing), the Capital City and Political Center of the largest world Empire in history.
A Depiction of Xuanzhang with his Bag of Buddhist Scriptures at the Museum of the JiaYuGuan Pass and Great Wall of China near the JiaYuGuan Fortress.
China Report - Map o/t Taklamakan Desert & Tarim River Basin
A Satellite Image Map of the entire Taklamakan Desert and the Tarim River Basin in Xinjiang-Autonomous Region of Western China.
Map gives explanation and backgrounds to Local Geography, the Flow of the Tarim River from the Pamir Mountains in the West to Lop Nur (Dry) in the East, ancient Oasis Cities of the Tarim Basin and Taklamakan Desert, the North and South Routes of the Silk Road in this Area, Past and Current Climate and Historic Backgrounds.
border area's where they lived a self-sustaining life-style at their assigned station. During normal times they would be farming their own food, however, during war they would mobilize and prepare for battle in their fortified townships.
The entire operation was directed by High Officials, sent off directly from the Court at Chang'An. As a result of all activities, trade blossomed on the now relatively safe trading routes of Central Asia. For the First Time Chinese silks were traded beyond the borders and the Silk was bartered for such precious goods as Jade and Gems as well as Seeds for improved agricultural production and horses for war. It was prosperous Time for the Han and population size increased, providing for fresh new settlers to be sent into the Western Regions.
It became an ongoing process in which the profitable Trade Routes grew ever more important. In order to protect these important routes, winding through mountain passes and deserts, the Han turned to the creation of large scale defensive works such as used throughout earlier Centuries and taken a bold step further by the Han Predecessor, the First Emperor of Ch'In. JiaYu Guan, as the narrowest point in a strategically vital and defendable mountain pass was an obvious location to construct such fixed defenses.
One of the Many Typical Burial Mounds dating from the Wei- and Jin-Dynasty Period scattered around JiaYuGuan and other villages along the Hexi Corridor. Buried in elaborate Cave Tombs underneath lie the bodies Wealthy Noble Families and Traders from the Time.
"Gansu - Grottoes o/t Ancient Silk Road"
( no longer available )
connection to both the Great Wall of China and the Silk Road, JiaYuGuan was among the First Cities in the Nation to be put on the list of destinations in China where the National Government allowed Foreigners to travel freely.
A Road Map of the Travels of Xuanzang (629 AD - 645 AD) with Links toAdditional Information.
into Chinese Language, as well as becoming the leading Professor of the Buddhist Academy of Da Cien Si (Great Goose Pagoda) at Chang' An (Xi'An), the daring adventurer and traveler became the founding father of Chinese Buddhism and the years after his Silk Road Travels saw the spread of his teachings throughout the Nation, and into Burma, Laos and Cambodia as well as Mongolia and Japan, all of whom later developed their own culturally specific forms of Buddhism.
When the Tang Dynasty entered its final decline, borders shrank back more and more towards the Chinese Plains and the main provinces of the Empire. In the end even Dunhuang and JiaYuGuan were lost to raiding Mongol and Central Asian Tribes. While the Han Chinese of the crumbling Tang Empire quarreled among themselves in large scale civil war, the Old Enemies of the Empire enjoyed the spoils. Border incursions, raids and other miseries were endemic in the West and the Region was basically lawless, lost to Central Control. The Final demise of the Tang Empire saw a large influx of Ethnic Groups, descendants of Old Allies of the Tang Dynasty who were now forced from their Homelands to the hoped for safety of more Southern and Eastern Regions near the Chinese Borders of Civilization. One ethnic group to be driven from their homelands were the Yugurs. The descendants of Mongol Tribes from the Selenge River Region north of Ulaanbataar (current day Capital of Republic of Mongolia), the Yugurs were driven south into the region of today's Gansu Province where many still reside today. The Yugurs can be found mainly at the Ethnic Autonomous Townships of Sunan on the Gansu-Qinghai Border West of Lanzhou and at JiuQuan Huangnibao Yugur Autonomous Township, just East of JiuGuan in the Hexi Corridor.