yongtai fortress gate china_

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.

yongtai fortress china scenes
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 yongtai fortress panorama china
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.

residents yongtai china portraits
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.

yongtai mountain landscapes sheep
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.

Travels in China – 2020


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