Location: located in the Gobi desert, at the middle of Hexi Corridor, 600 kms from Lanzhou, 5 - 6 hours away by bus from Dunhaung
Neighboring Areas: Shaanxi, Sichuan, and Qinghai provinces, Inner Mongolia, Ningxia Hui and Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Regions
Area: 2,935 sq km
Nationalities: Han, Hui, Tibetan, Dongxiang, Yugu, Baoan, Hazake, Tu, Sala, Manchu, and Mongolian
History: historically, a small township engaged in local trading, catering to the needs of the military garrisons stationed at the fort; as a Han outpost and in 1372, during the Ming dynasty, a fortress was built to protect the last frontier of the Chinese empire
Climatic Features: warm variable zone, aridity climate with the frost-free period of 160 days
Average Temperature: January with temperature as low as - 21C, August with temperature as high as 34C; Sandstorm - March to May; Strong Wind - November and December; annually with the highest of 38.7C and lowest of 0C, annual and daily difference in temperature great.
Rainfall: annual precipitation 100 mm, with rainfall concentrated in summer
Jiayuguan is not just about the famous great wall pass. If you are in the town, you should visit the town centre which is very clean and beautiful. There is now a huge shopping complex at the town centre. Also, there is a huge monument of the horse at the town centre as shown in this photograph.
The tomb-brick murals of the Wei and Jin periods pre-date the Mogaokou murals and frescos at Dunhuang. The style of painting can be linked directly to the styles seen in Cave 249 at the Mogaokou. It is believed that the artists lived locally and their art depicted everyday life of the times in rich, vivid and realistic detail. The technique used a brush pen, with the paintings executed quickly, with the precision and detail increasing slowly over a long period of time. The earlier bricks are duller, and the shape of people depicted was low and short, but later, the bricks were brighter, people were more clearly defined and the edge lining was more distict.
The Wei Jin Tombs were discovered in 1972, and between then and 1979, eighteen tombs were unearthed. Each tomb has three chambers, the first two vaulted and the rear burial chamber arched. Each chamber is decorated with three to five layers of painted bricks, although as many as ten layers have been discovered. So far, more than 700 brick murals have been discovered, mostly with one mural per brick, but some with one mural spread across two bricks. The brick murals demonstrate ordinary life in the political, agricultural, social and economic spheres; specific topics include the use of mulberry trees, livestock farming, hunting, pastoral cultivation, camping, banquets, music, chess, travel, wagons and silk costume.
As a link to the present-day, the logo of China Post, China's national postal service, is based on the 'estafette' design uncovered at the Wei Jin Tombs.
A very small museum has been created at the entrance to the area containing tombs #6 and #7, one kilometre from those tombs.
Located in Xincheng, 18 km northeast Jiayuguan, the Wei Jin Dynasties Tomb Complex is an extremely significant cultural site that is little visited by most visitors to Jiayuguan. The underground tombs date back to the Tang Dynasty (618~907), the Jin Dynasty and the Wei Kingdom (220-420). The whole tomb complex covers 30 sq km, with more than 1600 tombs. Currently just two tombs (#6 and #7) are open, although one other tomb (#5) has been completely removed and rebuilt at the Gansu Provincial Museum (currently closed).
Each tomb is 10 metres below ground level, with three chambers - two ante-chambers and an arched rear burial chamber. Each chamber is lined with hand-painted bricks depicting scenes of the day, and considered highly valuable for historic research. The huge number of pianted bricks creates a living memory of everyday life in western China and Central Asia and is unique. Unfortuantely, there appears to be no single catalogue of all the paintings (each one is different).
If you're pressed for time, skip climbing the Overhanging Great Wall and just take photos from the outside. We got marvellous photos anyway. :P I've been on the Great Wall from Jinshanling to Simatai, pretty steep bits there and the Overhanging Great Wall didn't look THAT much different. Besides, it's "restored" from 1987.
Admission to 1st Beacon Tower is 11 RMB, zipline ride across the gorge (?) is 35 RMB. The snow scenery at Jiayuguan fortress and 1st Beacon Tower is gorgeous... sadly, this's season-specific! Having all of these 2 places to yourself is also a big plus :D
Admission 60 RMB (30 RMB for students). The snow scenery at Jiayuguan fortress and 1st Beacon Tower is gorgeous... sadly, this's season-specific! Having all of these 2 places to yourself is also a big plus :D
This would seem odd, until (as Aurel Stein was quick to realize) the importance of the great trade route through the Jiayuguan pass is noted. For the Chinese in the earlier Han Dyasty, it was essential to protect the route, not so much any single pass: before the north-south curtain wall was built (in the Ming), it was possible for enemies from the north to cut off the route by traversing the short Shiguankou Gorge to attack the traders passing by across the main plain. This short stretch of wall across the valley would force attackers to travel around the northern side of the Heishan Mountains into even more diabolical desert. When the Ming Wall was built later, all eyes were looking west more than north, and by then the older Han wall, by then unnecessary, was in ruins.
In some respects, little has changed in the Shiguankou Gorge - photographs today look remarkably like the photographs taken by Aurel Stein in 1907, but there is much tourism development on the north bank of the river bed (and a good deal more is planned for the south bank and along the gorge by the local authorities!). This includes the kitsch water gate, some administrative buildings and a sculpture park as well as the usual unmaintained and decaying landscaping. A small temple, presumably built since 1907, sits looking down on the gorge from 'beyond' the wall. Although there are additional extremely low quality tourism-related structures in a mong the trees close to the road, the area is very pleasant. The overhanging Great Wall itself is interesting, although heavily restored to a rather idealised form, but it is in the Shiguan Gorge that the local history and heritage comes to life, and it is the gorge that makes a visit here really worthwhile.
At the Shiguankou Gorge, where the little village of Huangzeying lies, Aurel Stein was extremely impressed by the complicated arrangements for protecting not just the great lands behind (east of) the Great Wall, but also the small area of land outside (west of the wall). The extra fortifications, barely noticed now in the peaceful valley, suggest that this gorge was considered a real weak point in the Jiayuguan area. On the south side of the gorge, a spur wall rises to first one then a second watchtower. Progressing along the gorge (it leads to the Heishan rock paintings), after a mile, a curtain wall stretches across the valley, ending at high cliffs north and south. Clearly a Ming Dynasty wall, this is unsurprising and would have provided protection for the productive land outside the wall - fertile irrigated land is precious enough in this area to be worth protecting every last morcel.
But the real mystery - and I haven't been this far along the track and only read about it on my return to Beijing, is that a little further on is yet another wall, this time facing not west, but east....towards China!
Great design, poor function.
The visitor centre at the First Signal Tower has been constructed underground and has the potential to be a great facility. Unfortunately, the undergound bunker, virtually invisible at the surface and approached by a sloping ramp, is like some kitsch 1970s B-movie bad guy's haunt with mock stone waling inset with dinosaur skeletons, fake cattle skulls and wagon wheels. A glass floor sits over a fake Han tomb, and a glass-floored observation platform mainly provides a view of the incredibly insensitive 1980s tourism developments on the other side of the gorge. It is no surprise that every single tourism brochure and guide-book photograph of the First Signal Tower you will ever set eyes on was shot before these hideous huts and tents were built.
To add insult to injury, but with the definite possibility of injury thrown in for good measure, a Flying Fox zipwire has been installed, allowing tourists to cross the 150 metre gorge from the visitor centre.
Oh dear, China!