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Ningwu Pass

Written by Chris QuanUpdated Jan. 6, 2021

In downtown Ningwu, Ningwu Pass is one of the most important forts of the Great Wall. First built in the middle of the Ming Dynasty, it was one of the famous Three Passes (Pian Pass, Yanmen Pass, and Ningwu Pass) of Shanxi Province.

Quick Facts

Chinese: 宁武关 Níngwǔguān /ning-woo-gwan/ 'Peaceful Military Pass'

Location: downtown Ningwu, Xinzhou Prefecture, Shanxi Province

Built: 1450–1467

Why Was It Built?

The Ming Dynasty was always battling with neighboring nations. In order to prevent an attack from the Mongols or Manchus, forts and defensive walls were built in the north, known as the inner Great Wall and the outer Great Wall.


Ningwu Pass was fortified from 1450 to 1467, and established as a fort in 1466. Since then, it was in charge of 12 forts, such as Ningwu Fort, Yangfang Fort, and Shuoning Fort. An army official was sent there in 1540, in charge of the military affairs of the Three Passes.

The Great Wall at Ningwu Pass is over 20 kilometers long, with several forts, among which the biggest one is Yangfang Fort. Yangfang Pass Fort was built in 1539 and extended in 1576. It was called the first fort on Zhenzhong Road.

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A Pass with Frequent Battles

In ancient times, the Three Passes were the popular route for northern minorities traveling southward. At Pian Pass, the Yellow River was its natural barrier, but it could be crossed by the Mongol cavalry in winter when the river was frozen.

At Yanmen Pass, the mountains acted as natural barriers, so it was difficult for the Hun cavalry to break through.

At Ningwu Pass, the natural barrier of the Hui River was a seasonal stream. When the Hui River's flow ebbed, the Mongol cavalry advanced south down the valley to the pass. The valley was wide enough for ten horses to walk abreast. So Ningwu Pass was a major battlefield for the nomadic Mongols and farming Chinese.


The pass was divided into east and west parts. Its Great Wall was built along mountains, which is a spectacular sight. According to historical documents, it was extended by 3,500 meters in 1498. In 1606, the wall was brick faced over the whole length of 3,567 meters. It was very magnificent with beacon towers standing on the Great Wall.

Ningwu Pass has virtually all been torn down, except for a little rammed earth and broken wall, but the Drum Tower (Gulou) in the town center was a master work of Ningwu Pass.

The square Drum Tower is a three-story and three-roofed building with a traditional Chinese roof. At the bottom, there is a hollow base made from bricks and stones. It's more than 30 meters high.

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The Legend of Phoenix City

Ningwu Pass is also called Phoenix City. According to legend, the city was a phoenix that could rise from the ashes when attacked by enemies.

When overlooked, the wall-enclosed area is like the body of a phoenix. The wall platform of Huagai Mountain in the north looks like its head, the two fortifications in the east and west are like its wings, and Yingxun Tower in the south is like its tail. The Drum Tower in the center can be called its heart.

How to Get There

It takes about three hours by train from Taiyuan City or Datong City to Ningwu. Many buses are also available.

Visit Ningwu Pass with China Highlights

If you want to visit Ningwu Pass, China Highlights can help you avoid any hassles associated with the trip. Contact us and we can help you design a tour according to your requirements.

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