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Life on the Edge of the Great Wall – Yongtai Fortress

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


Yongtai Fortress – watch VIDEO for the big picture


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

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

Scenes from Yongtai Fortress in Gansu – China.

Apparently, according to a local – who claimed descendance from a “General” – the fort never saw military action; as a deterrent it proved effective. However, it did serve 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 Fortress (= walls visible as the yellow line on right side).

Double walls ringed the 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 filled with water diverted from a nearby ravine, running 6 meters wide and up to 2.5 meters deep.

ABOVE: Locals that gathered to chat. Below: My wife – Wei.

Along the fortress walls, stood watchtowers and cannon ports (at this time China was the world leader in the use of 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.

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 Fort.

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 is a tranquil, alluring ruin.

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

Global Nomad