yongtai fortress gate china_

Turtle Shaped Fortress of Yongtai Ancient City

China - 2020

Driving towards the silhouette of mountains – a long earth wall evolves into a massive fortress across the horizon.

Here in the ancient Silk Road corridor of China’s Gansu Province stands the 400-year-old fortress of Yongtai.

Video of Yongtai Ancient City Ruins

Built – amazingly, in just 15 months from 1607 to 08 – during the Ming period, Yongtai fort’s purpose was to protect Chinese settlements from northern nomadic raiders, such as the Mongols and Tartars.

Yongtai ancient city Gansu China known as the turtle shaped fortress
Scenes from Yongtai ancient city in Gansu – China. BELOW RIGHT: Many Chinese know Yongtai as “the turtle shaped fortress” as seen from this aerial shot.

Apparently, according to a local – who claimed to descend from a “General” – the fort never saw military action; as a deterrent, it proved effective. However, it served as a vast training ground for Ming troops.

Statistics reveal Yongtai Fortress had solid, compacted-earth walls reaching 12 meters high with foundations 6 meters deep, with the fortifications circling 1.7 kilometers.

Burial mound on grasslands beyond Yongtai Ancient City (= walls visible as the yellow line on right side).
Wild Lands of Tibetan Ganjia – China
An ancient city lured us – but the isolation seized us. So after van-camping at mud wall ruins, we drove the

Double walls ringed the ancient city gates – a common defensive strategy – and only after visitors had entered the outer enclosure were the gates of the inner wall then opened.

Another defensive measure was the moat – a flow of water surrounding the fortress. Now dry, once it was deep with water diverted from a nearby ravine, running 6 meters wide and up to 2.5 meters deep.

locals of Yongtai fortress gansu china
ABOVE: Locals of Yongtai gathered to chat. Below: My wife – Wei.

Along the fortress walls stood watchtowers and cannon ports (China was the world leader in using gunpowder armaments).

Within the fort lived a garrison of 2000 foot soldiers and 500 cavalry (with 800 horses), along with the usual military facilities. And supplementing this were soldier’s families, food storage, grain mills, water reservoirs.

Landscape and sheep around Yongtai Ancient City in Gansu, China.
ABOVE: Flocks of goats and sheep were a frequent sight each morning and evening – leaving or entering the fort, stopping off at the pond. BELOW: Wandering the area, visiting a beacon tower and a dry riverbed behind Yongtai Ancient City.

Still visible across the landscape – from the nearby mountain range leading into the hazy horizon – beacon towers sent messages via smoke across vast distances to communicate to cities and sections of the Great Wall.

Today, Yongtai ancient city is a tranquil, alluring ruin.

But it’s still living – some families remain, mostly middle-aged farmers raising sheep and goats.

Travels in China – 2020


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