Far to Beijing’s north, the Great Wall runs roughly along the border with Hebei Province. Just west of the well-known “wild wall” at Gubeikou is a little-visited but wonderful section of Ming Dynasty Great Wall called Beihualing – Beihua Ridge. It has everything: dramatic towers, ridgeline wall, remoteness, beautiful Ming stonework lying just where it fell centuries ago, and a really big fort. Just up the road is the equally impressive White Horse Pass, or Baimaguan.
Click through for photos of this incredible area.
The Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 CE) was perhaps the most prolific builder of the defensive or long walls that have come to be known as “the Great Wall”. This fort complex was built right at the beginning of the dynasty, and is a really nice example of the building techniques used at that time. The large brick towers higher up the wall from the fort date to the later Ming, probably somewhere around the big building boom of 1567-1569. The pictures clearly show the difference. The earlier Ming towers like the huge standalone tower just outside the line of the wall by the fort were made of stones placed over rammed earth cores, and did not have brick cabins on top (there were probably wooden shelters). Later Ming towers used the classic cut stone basements and kiln-fired brick upper levels where soldiers could store supplies (usually the lower level) and live (the upper level).
The wall here appears to date from the early Ming Dynasty, just like the fort. The construction techniques are the giveaway. The wall is made from almost loose stone, not the finely cut and joined stones of later Ming walls which are familiar from the more famous sites. There are few, if any, battlements, and those which exist are relatively crudely made. As seen in the photos above, the majority of the towers – whether intact or almost completely ruined – appear from their construction to come from later in the dynasty.
Hiking this wall was very rewarding. In places it was quite physically challenging, thanks to the terrain, and the overgrown scrub. In other places, we happened upon the ruins of towers which were invisible on the Google Earth imagery. These were clearly towers when you stood on them, though. There were rooftiles and bricks scattered about, but the most obvious evidence were the enormous door pieces, lying haphazardly on the ground presumably exactly where they fell when whatever calamity caused the tower to collapse. Earthquake, perhaps, or just the weight of one too many winters after hundreds since the end of the Ming Dynasty (373 to be precise).
This fort is quite impressive and dates right to the beginning of the Ming Dynasty, being built during the reign of the first Emperor, Hongwu, between 1368 and 1398. It has a big, flat open area and a sloped rear area, and probably contained wooden huts for various purposes (housing and servicing troops) and perhaps an area to keep horses too.
It took me about half an hour to bring you this translation of the tablet pictured above:
Located at Baimaguan Village, Fengjia Valley Town, built on the undulating mountain range in a high and difficult to access place, this fort guards the pass entrance under the Ming-era West Ji Town and embankment, and had jurisdiction over the road and Gaozhuangzi, more or less in cooperation with Baimaguan, and formed an advance attack and retreat capability and defence system. The fort was first built in the Ming Dynasty’s Hongwu reign (1368-1398). The fort sits on the west, facing east, is flat and rectangular and the main body of the fort wall foundation is intact due to the large pieces [of stone]; [the] stone steps were built with lime mortar and [the walls had?] an earth-filled core; the wall corner points had watchtower platforms. To the NW is Beihualing Pass; to the W is Ming Dynasty Great Wall.
Baimaguan – White Horse Pass
Last of all, we drove a bit further around to visit Baimaguan – White Horse Pass. According to the stone tablet there, this fortification also served as an advance/retreat defensive point, and housed a unit of troops tasked with the overall defence of this area. This structure was built later than the fort at Beihualing, during the Yongli Reign (1402-1424). On the southeastern side, beyond the next ridge, there is also a smaller pass.