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The Ancient City Walls in Pingyao

The walls surrounding the city of Pingyao were first built in the Xizhou Dynasty, and have a history of about 2,700 years. The construction consists of brick and stone exteriors with earth rammed inside. The ancient city walls measure 10 meters high and 6,162.7 meters long with 3.5 meter wide tops.

Except for the southern wall , which zigzags slightly according to the land’s contours, the other three walls are straight, making the enclosed city area a square one.

One city gate was built on each of the southern and northern walls, and two city gates were built onto each of the western and eastern walls.

Features of the City Walls

The Ancient City WallThe Ancient City Wall

All six city gates have gate towers within ternal gates. Watchtowers were built on top of the walls at a distance of every 50–100 meters, totaling 72 watchtowers along the four walls. One city gate was built on each of the southern and northern walls, and two city gates were built onto each of the western and eastern walls.

The parapets, each measuring 2 meters high, were built along the outside edges of the walls with 3,000 openings for shooting defenses.

It is said that Confucius once had 72 disciples and 3,000 students; therefore 72 watchtowers and 3,000 parapet openings were built on top of the four walls.

Grand Watchtowers and Defense Ditch

Ancient City Wall A watchtower of the Ancient City Wall

There were another four grand watchtowers, which were originally built on the four corners of the squared walls, but three of them disappeared long ago. Only the Great Scholar Tower can be seen on top of the walls today along with a roll call platform aptly named the 'Nameroll Calling Platform'.

A defense ditch was dug around the walls, measuring more than 3.3 meters in depth and 3.3 meters in width with trees planted along it. A drawbridge was built in front of each gate.

Architectural Style

Pingyao Ancient City is called "Tortoise City" by the local people because the southern and northern gates resemble the head and tail of a tortoise, respectively, while the two gates in the eastern wall and two gates in the western wall look similar to the four legs of a tortoise.

With the outer gate extending slightly out of the inner southern gate and two wells having been dug outside on either side, the tortoise-shaped city seems to have its own head with two eyes.

What's more, the northern gate curves slightly towards the east and the four gates in both the western and eastern walls curve slightly towards the south. This design looks as though a tortoise is crawling forward.

Some people say the city walls were built in this pattern to prevent flooding from the northwest. However, there is no definite proof for this theory. According to Chinese mentality though, the symbolic meaning of eternity is given by the shape of a tortoise.

Why Pingyao’s Walls Were Built

The Ancient City WallA gate tower of The Ancient City Wall

The walls surrounding Pingyao were first built in 827 BC. In the early days of the Ming Dynasty, Shanxi bordered Eastern Mongolia. The city walls were built in order to prevent the enemies in Eastern Mongolia, the Tatars, from invading.

The walls have an exquisite structure with an intensive style of design and construction. It shows the wisdom of ancient laborers. The city walls are an indispensable part of Pingyao Ancient City's heritage.

The Attraction of Pingyao’s Ancient City Walls

The site of the ancient city walls in Pingyao is home to one of the four most well-preserved ancient city walls in China. It was listed as a World Heritage Site in 1997 by UNESCO.

The ancient city walls in both Pingyao and Xi'an were initially built for defense purposes, so they have much in common. But the ancient city walls in Pingyao have a longer history compared to the walls of Xi'an because they were built much earlier.

Climbing onto the city walls, tourists are offered a a wonderful viewing point for Pingyao, both within it and beyond the city gates.

Travel Essentials

  • The ticket to climb onto the walls is included with the ticket to visit Pingyao Ancient City.
  • It is open from 8:00am to 7:30pm.
  • It is better to walk along the walls to see the changes throughout the ages.
  • It will take between 2 and 4 hours to walk along the walls. If you go on a sunny day, please take sun protection with you.
  • It is a good place for photographers to take pictures of the sunrise and sunset.
  • The air quality is not very good in winter so it is advisable to take a mask with you.

Tour the Ancient City Walls with China Highlights

Pingyao Ancient CityTourists practice tai chi in Pingyao Ancient City.

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