Structure(s) near the Wall - Block City or Castle :
Introduction to the Structures that make up the Great Wall of China :
The Great Wall of China today is known worldwide as a huge defense system, usually thought of as a nearly impenetrable and continuous wall manned by masses of soldiers. In reality however, it was not always quite that magnificent.
Construction on the Great Wall of China began as early as the 7Th Century B.C. in a time known as the "Sping and Autumn Period". In this period of Chinese History, although officially central powers were still intact and the Eastern Zhou Dynasty held sway over the Han peoples realm, in reality the Zhou State was increasingly frought with internal strife resulting in the forming of several states (kingly realms) within. One of these states vying for power and influence was the State of Chu, a rather militaristic state situated in south and central China.
It is the State of Chu which is known to have built a large square (fortified) city, a first walled defense, which today is taken as the first beginning of a "Great Wall of China".

As the military successes of Chu piled and smaller neighboring states were absorbed into the Chu Realm, the policy of building walls was extended across this growing Kingdom and in due time real defensive walls were created in strategic points. That is, as turmoil in China continued, the Zhou Dynasty (1121 B.C. - 255 B.C.) finally terminated flinging the already fragmented realm into its next painfull episode marked down as the "Warring States Period".
During this "Warring States Period (475 B.C. - 221 B.C.)" arms races were the norm while the 6 Kingdoms left within Han China after the demise of the Zhou battled eachother for centuries in
- Structures of the Great Wall of China of the Ming Dynasty -
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Satellite image of China and North-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 of China.
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In ancient times many Towns were built on either side of the Great Wall or not too far from it.
They were called block cities, and were fortresses or castles. No matter which is their
particular name, their function was always the same, namely to serve as the station for a garrison of
troops. Surely, their may have been many civilians living among the soldiers inside or near the
Walled City, however in essence the majority of their population consisted of armed troops. The others were just there as shopkeepers, the smithy, inn-keepers, cooks and the like, building their life upon the commerce provided by the military and those passing through town, if any.
Some fortresses and castles had beacon towers so as to combine defensive purposes with signal and communications functions. Any proper headquarters is useless without communciations afterall.
Therefor, in the line of the Great Wall during the Ming Dynasty Era, Fortresses, block cities and castles did not so much serve as a first line defensive works but more as a (massive) barracks for stationed troops, usually in remote regions.

Throughout their historic use the scale of Castles is usually not very large. For instance, the size of the four Castles found in Bayin Nuoluo, Suhe, Arhure and Woborhure which are part of the Great Wall(s) of the Qin Dynasty (221 B.C. - 207 B.C.) and Han Dynasty (206 B.C. 220 A.D.). in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, are all square shaped, with side walls measuring roughly 450 meters in length. This size represents the largest size castles. Other Castles such as the one found in the Jungar Banner of Ih Ju League in Inner Mongolia are more modest in size. The Castle in Jungar Banner measures 360 meters by 410 meters.
As can be seen on Satellite Image, the Castle of Jungar Banner is damaged and its interior is currently in use as farmland, however the general outline of the structure remains. The Wall of this Castle is about 4 meters wide at the top.
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Helpful Geographic Map of Inner-Mongolia showing the larger geographic relations in the Region. Inner Mongolia surrounds Beijing City, but the city lies protected behind a ring of mountains. Across the mountains lies the Wall
The Jungar banner itself is situated along the north bend of the Yellow River (Huanghe) and so the early Great Wall of China of the previously mentioned Era dealt with the attacking Hun Tribes (of Attila) coming in from the North. It was built in this advanced position to help protect an army of Han Chinese which had  been sent to colonize and work the fertile land of the Yellow River valley (or perish in the attempt). The first attempt at colonization failed in the Qin Era, but in the following Han Dynasty Era, when it is said over 2 million Han farmer-soldiers were sent in, it succeeded. The Castle of Jungar Banner then served as a fortified station for troops, who in peacetime had to provide fo their own sustainance. The troops did so by means of agriculture which is why Castles are always found near rivers, lakes or water wells.
This also served the dual function of denying the enemy possible resources such as water.

Since the Qin Dynasty Era (221 B.C. - 207 B.C.) Block Cities (Castles) have been in use along the Great Wall of China. Thus they can be found strewn throughout all Northern Border Provinces from the
Shanhai Pass in the East to as far West as Dunhuang, which is well beyond the extend of the Great Wall of China as built and maintained during the Ming Dynasty (1368 A.D. - 1644 A.D.).

Apart from obvious features such as their usually squared or rectangular shapes, their thick walls, and their appearance in what usually is or was a strategic location, it is not always easy to identify an ancient Castle. Much due to erosion, local changes of land use, climatic changes over the many centuries, remnants of Castles are often partially ruined. Once on the ground, the situation may not be a clear as one can wish for. In fact, the best way to review a fortress site is with the use of satellite imagery, which helps create a better overview of the situation.

Once exploring on the ground,  explore the situation. Many Castles are found near the Great Wall of China, however Castles are rarely fully integrated with the Great Wall of China itself, as are Pass Cities (Gate Cities of the Great Wall of China). When built at a reasonably short distance from the Great Wall of China itself, Castles and Block Cities may however be connected to the Great Wall by means of a minor side-wall.
Castle ruins are also distinct from other possible ruins such as squared beacon towers within a walled enclosure because Castles usually have gates whereas smaller fortifications do not have elaborate gates.
Castles have gates and the Castles of the Great Wall of China have gates placed along their side-walls. The more elaborate Castles found even had Gate Locks, which are vaulted Gate structures with two gates set in series and a central enclosure which was exposed to arrow fire from fighting platforms or arrow towers above.
Other gates, those found in the largest and most well developed Castles of the Ming Dynasty have solid gate arches and elaborate and often ornate watchtowers overhead.
Not often mentioned, the Castle Walls themselves in turn were usually protected by Moats. Where this was not possible the Castle would be surrounded by a deep trench. The Four corners of all Castles have battle platforms emplaced and protruding enabling active engagement of the enemy below.
It must be noted however, that in all cases, today the moats found around the Castles of the Great Wall of China have long since been lost, usually filled by wind swept sands and dust, or simply by local civilians who devloped other plans in later times.
To see a functioning moat surrounding a walled Castle or City today, one has to travel to the Shanhaiguan Fortress in Qinhuangdao Prefecture of Hebei Province where the best example -a revived moat, can be found. Other lesser options are to travel to the Walled City of Xi'An which has a well-preserved and explorable city wall as well as a muddy moat, or to Taiyuan or perhaps Datong in Shanxi Province. The City Walls of Datong, altho recently almost entirely lost are now being rebuilt in order to attract more tourist visitors to the otherwise bleak city.

All Castles of the Great Wall of China have been ruined in this current time and so far none have been restored for purposes of tourism.  Many of the Castle sites however have been combed over meticulously by archeologists yielding an overwhelming amount of precious relics and data.
Among the finds so far are wooden slips from the Han Dynasty Era (206 BC - 220 AD) yielding letters from soldiers and disclosing military communications, financial accounting etc, countless tools and every day utensils, hunting equipment and fishing equipment,  military uniforms and armor, weapons and ammunition such as crossbow bolts ad balls for early cannon (of the Ming Era), and many other interesting items. Many of the finds are on display in the Great Wall Museums found strewn throughout the provinces.
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an utter War of attrition. It was in this lengthy and painful episode in Chinese History that the first real defensive Walls evolved, both as a marking of the borders between neighboring states and often as defensive walls hoping to exclude a hostile army.

Thus, the first "Walls of China" were built by the States of Chu and its smaller and frightened northern neighbor Qi.  Some of the ruins of these very early walls can stil be found in south Hebei Province, Shandong Province and south Shanxi Province.
In the same period other States such as Yan, Zhao and Qin built defensive walls along their exterior borders in order to keep out nomadic armies from the north.  Remains of their walls can still be found today within Liaoning Province and in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region near Hohhot (see: Map Great Wall - Layers & Era's). These very first walls marked a modest beginning which led to the creation of the first true Great Wall of China.

Subsequently, all walls previously built were united in the short but influential Rule of the Qin Dynasty (221 B.C. - 207 B.C.), who united not only China (all Chinese States) but embarked upon the unprecendented building of walls, uniting all defensive walls built previously during the Warring States Period into one giant structure. This Wall built on orders of Emperor Qin is described to have been "10.000 Li" long (which should be taken as symbolic for "very long") stretching between southern Gansu Province in the West all the way to Pyongyang on the Korean Peninsula in the East and it was the first version of what is today understood as the Great Wall of China.
Construction of the Great Wall of China continued with intermittence for the next two millennia, being undertaken during the succesful Han Dynasty (206 B.C. - 221 A.D), the Western- and Eastern Jin Dynasties (265 A.D. - 420 A.D.),  the Northern Wei Dynasty (Also known as Tuoba Wei)(386 A.D. - 534 A.D.), the Northern Qi Dynasty (550 A.D. - 577 A.D.), the Northern Zhou Dynasty (557 A.D. - 581 A.D.), the Sui Dynasty (589 A.D. - 618 A.D.), the Liao Dynasty (Khitan Empire - 907 A.D. - 1125 A.D.), the Jin Dynasty (1115 A.D. - 1234 A.D.) and finally the Ming Dynasty (1368 A.D. - 1644 A.D.).
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No doubt the most unique and unusual Castle can be found some 15 kilometers due East of Yinchuan in Linhe County along what is known as the Shuidonggou Great Wall of China in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, the longest continuous stretch of the Great Wall of China in existence today. This Castle, known as Red Mountain Fortress (Hong Shan Bao),  is the only known secret and hidden facility known to have existed along the Great Wall of China, in any Era.
Situated at a small river, the Shuidong He, the Red Mountain Fortress lies precisely on the southern border of the Ordos desert, where today it consists of a collection of mud loess cliffs and ravines centered a central hill (the Red Mountain) in which an elaborate cave sustem has been carved out.
Originally based upon a collection of what likely where natural caves proven to have already been inhabited (or used) some 10 or 20.000 years B.C. by the earliest known modern man (homo sapiens), over the millennia the location developed into a secret hiding site well-known to local nomadic tribes, until in the early 16Th Century the strategic site was fully integrated with the defenses of the Great Wall of China. The Ming Dynasty Fortress of Red Mountain not only made use of the caves, but created a continuous cave system, which included several large rooms used for food storage, weapons storage, a substantial garrison and more. As such, it may have been the first proof of the use of tunnels for military purposes, as was later put to much use in the Revolutionary Era of Mao Zedong. As is widely known today, in the 1960's large cities such as Chongqing and Beijing built large scale underground tunnels (See: "Beijing Underground City" with similar features only on a much larger scale.
The site was well hidden and when found was further protected from outside attack by  a means of narrow entrance spaces with a special design. If necessary, the underground fortress could
survive a lenghty siege.
Although until recently filled with sands and thus largely inaccesible, the Red Mountain Fortress has recently been excavated and overhauled for tourism purposes. In walking distance of the ruins of the Shuidonggou Great Wall, and further supported by the Shuidonggou Stone Age Relics site and its fully modern museum describing the important stone age finds done in the the same location, the Red Mountain Fortress is an increasingly popular tourist destination.
For those who have come to Shuidonggou in search of Castles of the Great Wall, another Castle can be visited further East along the same stretch of the Great Wall, where it terminates at the border of Yanchi County of Wuzhong Prefecture, Ningxia, creating the Yanchi Great Wall of China built during the Ming Dynasty Era (1368 A.D. - 1644 A.D.). Intrestingly this Castle is fairly well preserved and stands inside of what is a double layered section of the Great Wall of China. This double layered Great Wall is connected to the Castle by means of a now eroded and broken side-wall. At least one beacon tower can be found, standing at some distance from the Castle.
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