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Three Gorges Dam — Records, Key Facts and Benefits

Three Gorges Dam

The Three Gorges Dam is to date the largest dam in the world —  an outstanding mega-structure to visit in China. It serves three main purposes: flood control, hydroelectric power production, and facilitating ship navigation in the Yangtze River.

Features: World Records

al The heaviest concrete structure ever built weighing 144 billion tons!

World's most powerful electric power station: It has installed capacity for 22,500 megawatts. Only the Itaipu Dam has produced more terawatts of power in a year, but the dam could produce more than Itaipu if conditions were optimal.

  • Biggest dam: The dam measures 181 m (594 ft) in width and 2.34 km (7,661 ft, 1½ miles) in length! It is 175 meters high and 18 metres wide at the visible top.
  • Some of the largest generators in the world: The dam's 32 main generators each weigh about 6,000 tons and can produce about 700 MW of power.
  • Biggest stators: The dam's main generators have the biggest stators (motionless middle part): about 3 meters in height.
  • Most expensive dam ever built: about 230 billion yuan or 36 billion dollars, but this was recovered in just 5 years of operation in 2013!
  • World's second most expensive construction project after the orbiting space station.

Highlights of the Three Gorges Dam

The Enormous Ship Locks

Three Gorges Dam ship lockThe Three Gorges Dam's ship lock raises and lowers the cruise ships between the lake and the river below.

The ship locks are remarkable: It is thought that they will allow total shipping through the gorges to increase more than 5 times than what it was before they were built.

There are two in series, parallel. The two sets of locks are 280 meters long, 35 meters wide, and 5 meters deep. Boats of up to 10,000 tons can now ascend/descend the dam more than 100 meters via locks between the lake and the river in four hours.

  • The greatest number of inner ship locks anywhere.
  • One lock can contain 6 cruise liners packed in 2 x 3 formation like sardines.
  • Most complicated ship lift in the world — that's right, an elevator for ships!

The ship lift, finished in 2015, now allows faster travel for boats weighing 3,000 tons. They can ascend and descend in about 40 minutes. It is a hydraulically powered seesaw that can lift ships 113 meters (371 feet).

The Tremendous Flood Discharge

Three Gorges DamHuge electricity generating jets of river water can be seen from on top of the Three Gorges Dam.

The dam will discharge floodwater during the end of summer when the Yangtze River rises high in July and August. If you are just visiting the Three Gorges Dam at that time, you will enjoy the marvelous spectacle of flood discharge with water shooting out the spillways.

In July of 2010, there was a peak flood, and they opened 9 spillways to release the water. These spillways are designed to release water in emergency situations. The 9 spillways shot forth water columns that were 50 meters or 64 ft long in a watery mist.

Amazing Views

With an area of 15 square kilometers (5.8 square miles), the Three Gorges Dam Scenic Area consists of five parts: the Exhibition Hall of the Three Gorges Project, Tanzi Ridge, 185 Platform, Memorial Garden and the Dam Viewing Point.

Good places to see the dam: The 185 Platform gets its name because of its height. It is 185 meters (607 ft) tall and equal to the height of the dam. The Dam Viewing Point is another good location to have a view on the dam and the marvelous spectacle of flood discharge. The Tanzi Ridge near the dam is another good sightseeing point.

The Three Gorges Reservoir

The reservoir is an artificial lake that shows visitors a picturesque view in sunny days when the wide blue lake and the vast azure sky merge at the horizon.

  • One of the world's longest artificial lakes: The Three Gorges Lake is 660 km (370 mi) long and reaches Chongqing!
  • Long, but narrow: The comparatively narrow canyons make the lake long, but not wide. The surface area is 632 km2 (244 sq mi). Itapu's lake is 1,350 km2 (520 sq mi).


Views along the Yangtze RiverViews along the placid Three Gorges Lake

1993 China began excavating a side channel to block the Yangtze River to build the dam.

1993-1997 During the first phase, the main channel of the Yangtze River was blocked, and its water was diverted into a side channel so that the dam construction could take place.

1998-2003 During this period, the work was focused on constructing the cofferdam (a temporary barrier that keeps water out of a normally submerged area), the locks, and the hydroelectric plant.

2006 The dam's wall was finished. It was constructed with enough steel to build 63 Eiffel Towers.

2009-2015 The project was functionally complete in 2009, but more machinery was installed afterwards.

2015 The giant ship lift was completed. It was designed by a German company. 

Benefits: Since it was built, the dam has provided water during the dry season and kept the river more uniformly level downstream for shipping. The electricity fuels Chongqing's heavy industry providing some of the biggest steel, aluminum, and car companies in China with cheaper power.

Drawbacks: The construction of the dam has flooded archaeological and cultural sites. It is causing significant ecological changes including an increased risk of landslides and earthquakes. Hence, the dam has been a controversial topic both in China and abroad.

Record displacement of people: The creation of the lake forced more than 1.2 million people to move, and 13 cities, 140 towns and about 1,350 villages were flooded or partially flooded. See Yangtze River History and Culture>>

Travel Essentials

  • Ticket price: 105 yuan per adult for foreign visitors; free for Chinese, Hong Kong, and Macau visitors.
  • Tourist buses: Every day in Yichang City, there are tourist shuttle buses departing from No. 80 Dongshan Avenue (东山大道80号) or Liuzhashou Tourist Reception Center (六闸首游客接待中心) to the Three Gorges Dam Tourist Area.
  • Public buses: Travelers can take city bus line 3, 4, 9, 21 and 100 to No. 80 Dongshan Avenue; or take city bus line 1, 10, 21, 100, 101 to Yemingzhu Station, then change to bus No. 8, and arrive at Liuzhashou Tourist Reception Center.
  • Cruise ships: All cruise ships pass through the dam, but cruises differ on the dam tour details. Check the cruise ship itineraries or ask your travel agent to know more about the cruise ships' excursions. See Yangtze Cruise Ship Comparisons for details>>

See Yichang transportation>>

Nearby Attractions

the Lesser Three GorgesExplore the Lesser Threes Gorges by smaller boat.

The new reservoir has many interesting tourist spots where cruise ships stop for excursions. Among these are the Three Gorges themselves that are now more navigable for sightseeing.

The Three Gorges: The Three Gorges are from upstream to downstream: Qutang Gorge, Wu Gorge, and Xiling Gorge, and they make up the most beautiful section of the lake.

Of the Three Gorges, the Qutang Gorge is the shortest but the most spectacular and precipitous. The Wu Gorge is 44 km long and is famous for its tranquility, depth, and enchanting nature. You might feel like you're on a cruise in a beautiful nature painting. Xiling Gorge, the longest, has several dangerous rapids and rocks. Renowned streams, springs, karst caves, and historical relics lie in this gorge. See the Three Gorges>>

The Lesser Three Gorges are smaller sightseeing canyons you can also go into further upstream about equidistant between Chongqing and the dam. See Lesser Three Gorges>>

Touring the Three Gorges Dam

The Majestic YangtzeCruise the majestic Yangtze to experience the heart of China and the Three Gorges Dam.

The sheer size of the dam is mind blowing: so a tour guide to explain the workings and structure is recomended.

Short of taking a helicopter flight (available), the only way to appreciate this modern wonder of engineering is from a hillside viewpoint, or the scale model in the museum.

Contact us to have the Yangtze and its dam in your tailor-made China journey, or maybe start your personalized tour plan from one of these recommendations.

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