Jiayuguan - Westernmost Fortified Town of the Ming Era.
Pass Cities ; Fortified Towns used as Gates for traffic to Pass through the Great Wall:
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 "Spring 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".
China Report - Map of the Great Wall during the Ming Dynasty
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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A Full Google Earth Supported Map Overview of All Structures of the Great Wall of China from East to West, by DrBen.Net (c) ChinaReport.com and Google.com.
Hebei Province Map 1 - Schematic Map - Large
Literally, the First of all Gate Cities set along the Great Wall is Shanhaiguan, a fortified town set in the middle of a crucial pass (and road) acting as a hardened Gate, and exclusive passage point along an otherwise forbidden and impenetrable Great Wall. The Shanhai Pass City, a sizable fortress Town in its own day, can still be visited and toured today (See: Shanhaiguan). There are however many others, big and small set along the length of the Great Wall nearly throughout China.
While the Great Wall was a man-made obstacle to keep enemies away, the people living in the local area could come and go through the wall's gates as they pleased. Literally thousands of gates were installed along the Great Wall of China, but the Gates were always built inside mountain passes.
Map of Beijing City Province and ALL Locations of The Great Wall of China visitable within Beijing City Province and Immediate Vicinity.
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.
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.), theSui 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.).
By the time of the Ming Dynasty the Great Wall had finally evolved into its most solid, most effective and most impressive form stretching across no less than 15 Chinese Provinces and comprising a total of 50 thousand li, around 25.000 kilometers of Wall. It was an is one of the greatest cultural and architectural achievements in all of human history.
To get a better understanding of all structures involved in the creation of the complete defensive work that the Great Wall of China was, please read through below Chapters.
Passes were not only entrances to the Great Wall, but they were strategic communications points of themselves. For this reason elaborate and exquisitely designed fortified cities were built around them.
Pass Cities were generally constructed between two opposing mountains, between a mountain and a river (or Sea in the case of Laolongtou), set at the turning point of a river, or right across a vital communications line (a main road). The strategic importance of the location as well as the local terrain at the pass determined the final size and shape of construction of the fortified pass city.
Pass cities occur in the shape of a square, a rectangle, trapezoid or a polygon.
Regardless of size, as their function dictates, all Gate Cities are interlinked with the Great Wall itself.
Many if not most of the Pass Cities stand in narrow passages between steep mountains. Examples in case are for instance the well known Mutianyu Great Wall, in the Huairou District of Beijing City Province. Minor gates such as these could be guarded by as few as 2 or three watchtowers. Other large Gate Cities, such as Shanhai Guan and Jiayuguan had to close of kilometer wide gaps, seeing the construction of a large central Fortress with attached side-walls, multiple watchtowers and double walls.
Pass Cities are in fact the key defense points along the Great Wall, points for which the wall thus only serves to to link them together. The Wall "interconnects the locks". For this reason the Jiayu Pass Fortress City (Jiayu Guan) is also known as the "End Lock in Connection".