Jiayuguan Castle

Jiayuguan Castle

Location: Jiayuguan, Gansu, Map

Area: 33,500 sq km

Entrance Fee: 120 yuan (60 yuan for students)


Jiayuguan Castle or Jiayuguan Fort is a medieval castle situated in Jiayuguan, Gansu in China. This trapezoid shaped fortress was constructed to guard a strategic Jiayuguan pass in the 14th century. The total length of the wall reached a height of 11 meters and 733 meters long encompassing an area of 33,500 sq km. The fortress has two gates on the East and West sides. North and South sides are connected to the Great Wall.


Historians believe that construction of such impressive feat of engineering was forced by Timur or Tamerlane (famous Turkic ruler) invasion directed against Ming dynasty in 1372. Far Western end of the wall needed strengthening so the fortress was situated here. A local legend claims that Chinese officials asked an architect for a number of bricks required to construct an impressive fort. He responded by estimating the number to be around 99,999. Once the official showed doubt in such a low number, a man added one more brick. Upon completion of Jiayuguan Fortress only one brick remained unused. It was placed as a bonus on the castle gate.



The outpost was built in the narrowest part of the western part of the Hexi corridor, 6 kilometers southwest of the city of Jiayuguan, Gansu Province, on the site of an oasis, which at the time of construction was the most extreme in western China. Surrounded by several hills.



The fortification has the shape of a trapezoid with a wall perimeter of 733 meters, with a total area of 33,500 square meters. The southern and northern parts of the outpost are connected with the Great Wall of China. There are stone gates on the east and west sides of the building. The main gate located in the eastern part is called Sanyuanmen. Three-story observation towers rise above the gate - each 17 meters high, four more towers of lower height are located at the corners of the outpost. On the outer side of the southern and northern walls of the outpost, low adobe walls, called Lochen, were built in parallel.

On the outer side of the eastern wall of the outpost, a square was built, surrounded by an adobe wall. The architectural solutions of the outpost are an example of classical Chinese architectural canons, one of the recognizable features of which are roofs with cornices rising up.

The outpost has three lines of defense against enemies, these are the inner city, the outer city and the moat.


Legend and history

According to ancient legend, the official in charge of building the outpost asked the designer to estimate the exact number of bricks required, and he gave him the number. He received an answer quite quickly, and began to worry that there would not be enough stone to complete the construction. In response to this, the designer asked to prepare one more brick than he had originally announced. At the end of construction, the designer's calculations turned out to be correct, only one remained, the very extra brick, which was later placed above one of the gates, where it remains to this day.

The construction of the outpost was begun in 1372, in response to the impending threat of the campaign of Tamerlane's troops, but Tamerlane died of old age while leading his army to China. After some time, the outpost was abandoned, and later restored and strengthened, in 1539 it was the location of a large detachment of troops.



During the reign of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), the outpost was a key stronghold of the Great Silk Road. The pass served as a check point for merchants and travelers passing through these places. Although formally the border of the state ran further to the west, for the people of China, Jiayuguan was the last real stronghold before the Gobi Desert. Contemporaries called Jiayu "The First and Greatest Gate Under Heaven" (not to be confused with the "First Gate Under Heaven", another gate located at the eastern end of the Great Wall of China near the city of Qinhuangdao, Hebei Province).