First Pier of the Great Wall — Western End of the Ming Great Wall of China

First Pier of the Great Wall — Western End of the Ming Great Wall of China

By Chris QuanUpdated Oct. 18, 2021
The First Pier of the Great WallThe sign says First Pier of the Great Wall (Diyi Dun)

The "First Pier of the Great Wall" is the westernmost end of the Ming Dynasty Great Wall that stretches 8,851 kilometers (5,500 miles). It was built to be a small fort, one of many, that guarded the Jiayu Pass area. By visiting during your trip to Jiayuguan, you'll see the western end of the Ming Great Wall and see the beautiful austere canyon country the fort guarded.

  • Chinese: 长城第一墩 Chángchéng Dìyī Dūn /channg-chnng dee-ee dwn/ 'The First Pier of the Great Wall'

Where the the First Pier of the Great Wall Is

Overlooking the Taolai River. It is 8 kilometers (5 miles) west from Jiayuguan City in Gansu Province. It is about 8 kilometers south (15 minutes by vehicle) of the Jiayu Pass Great Wall Fortress.

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Who Built It and When — The Western End of the Ming Great Wall's History

The Jiayuguan Great Wall section was built by the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) in this strategic pass that allowed access to the Gansu Corridor through which armies would pass if they attacked out of the northwest.

The "First Pier" was built in 1539 by a commander named Li Han. They built it on a 56-meter (184-feet) -tall cliff by the Taolai (Beida) River canyon. 

It was originally a small watchtower shaped like a cube 14 meters (46 feet) long, 14 meters wide, and 14 meters tall.

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First Pier of the Great Wall' Facts

  • Construction date: 1539.
  • Original size: 14 meters long, wide, and high
  • Size of remains: 6 meters (20 feet) long, 6 meters (20 feet) wide and 10 meters (33 feet) tall.
  • Construction material: Rammed loess (local dusty yellow earth)
changcheng diyidunThe First Pier of the Great Wall

When you see the bleak surroundings, it makes sense that a fort would be built on the bluff overlooking the canyon. It gave the Ming soldiers an observation post and a strategically fortified position to control the canyon below and movement across the canyon.

Jiayuguan was one of the westernmost passes allowing entry to the Gansu Corridor valley and the Yellow River Chinese heartland. In the Han Dynasty there were forts and Great Wall sections further west as far as Dunhuang and Lop Nor in Xinjiang.

The First Pier was one of the larger of about thirty-nine watchtowers of various sizes that were distributed around Jiayu Pass. It served as an observation and communication tower. Fire and smoke signals were used to communicate. It's height made it easier to defend.

The First Pier was also called "the First Strategic Beacon Tower Under Heaven" (天下第一险墩 'Heaven Under First Danger Abutment').

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Tourist Features

The Great Wall at JiayuguanThe Jiayuguan Great Wall near the First Abutment is built of loess.
  • Good natural canyon scenery with a river below and a view of the Qilian Mountains.
  • Musuem: The museum on site has dinosaur bones along with information about the watchtower.
  • Observation tower: To get a good look around at the scenery, many tourists recommend the view from the observation deck.
  • Close to Jiayuguan Fort: It is only a 15 minutes drive from better known Jiayuguan Fort.
  • Easily accessible: It is only 8 kilometers or 5 miles from Jiayuguan City.
  • Time: about an hour to see it and the museum and other optional sites: zipline, suspension bridge, bar.
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When is the Best Time to Visit the First Pier of the Great Wall?

The best time to visit is in late spring, summer, and fall before the snow falls. Winter weather is freezing and blustery.

It is best to try to avoid the major holidays when more Chinese tourists come: National Day Holiday (October 1–7) and Labor Day Holiday (May 1–3).

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Tickets

  • Tickets: 101 RMB high season (May to October) and 61 RMB in the low season; include Jiayuguan Fort and the Overhanging Great Wall.
  • Hours: 8:30 am to 6:00 pm in winter and early spring. 8:30 to 8:00 pm in summer and fall.

Getting There: Independent, Group, or Private Tour

The First Post is only a few minutes away from Jiayuguan City. There are direct sightseeing buses from Jiayuguan Bus Station, so travel is comparatively easy.

Going Independently — public transport is full of hassles, be patient!

great wall touringChina Highlights' Great Wall tours

Traveling on your own you may meet a lot of hassles and trouble such as the language barrier, lining up for tickets, waiting for the bus or taxis, and figuring out the best route to see the Jiayuguan area sights.

Taxi from Jiayuguan: To charter a car or taxi from the downtown to the First Abutment of the Great Wall might cost at least 50 yuan for a round-trip. It depends on the time the driver has to wait there. Here is the address in Chinese to show the driver: 长城第一墩门口, 嘉峪关市.

Bus: You could also take a bus from the Jiayuguan Bus Station.

Group Tour — cheaper, but less flexibility

Many companies may provide one-day group tours of the Jiayuguan area. But do you really want to follow a noisy group of tourists and someone leading them with a bullhorn? The scenery is best seen in some quiet, and photography is best when you can take photos at your leisure as you explore around. Another problem with group tours is that most of them stop at tourist stores and  pricey tourist restaurants.

Private Tour — free of hassles, more flexibility

The most pleasant, direct, and interesting way to go is with a private tour such as ours. Our tours are known for being hassle free and individualized for our clients.

private transport with China Highlights

A private tour means more flexibility, and you will be taken care of by your private guide and the driver.

  • Your guide will arrange your entry tickets (in advance), saving you a lot of time and trouble lining up.
  • Our guide will help you go at the best time of day for what you want to do.

Our experienced guide will also help you learn more about the history of the Great Wall and Chinese culture. You'll make the most of your visit. Tell us what sites in the area you want to see: the First Post, the Overhanging Great Wall, or the Jiayuguan Fort, Great Wall, and museum. Create a Jiayuguan tour>>

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What to Bring

  • Water and snacks: Bring your water and snacks for the visit. You might not like the snacks and food available.
  • Clothing: Bring a sunhat and cover your skin if you have light skin.

Choose Your Route

Jiayuguan FortThe museum at Jiayuguan Fort is only 15 minutes away and can be visited too as part of a day tour.

As you might have limited time for your visit at Jiayuguan, let us help you decide about the places you want to see. Our tour guide can help you tour the area and other Great Wall or Silk Road locations.

Where to Stay

Jiayuguan hotels: See our list of recommended hotels in the area. Moderately priced rooms most tourists would want to stay at start at 60 USD. We can arrange your room for you and maybe even find you a discount.

Nearby Attractions from the First End of the Great Wall

  • The Jiayuguan Great Wall Fort: This better known attraction is only 15 minutes away to the north.
  • The Overhanging Great Wall: This other Jiayuguan Great Wall attraction is only 40 minutes away to the north.
  • More Jiayuguan Attractions
  • Dunhuang: Many tourists visit Jiayuguan while on a trip to see Dunhuang (400 km west) and other Silk Road and Great Wall attractions. It is seven hours away by road. Dunhuang's Buddhist Mogao Grottoes are well known.
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