Great Wall at Si Ma Tai (largely built during the Ming Dynasty) (司马台长城)
China's Great Wall, more properly known as the 'Ten Thousand Li Great Wall', is a series of fortifications built along the northern frontier of China over a span of 27 centuries. Rather than a single fixed wall running east-west along a defined path, the wall is actually comprised of many fortifications running roughly parallel to one another and varying in their overall latitude according to the northern boundaries of Chinese civilization at the time of their construction. Although portions of the Great Wall extend thousands of kilometers west into the Gobi desert, the best-preserved and most visited areas of the wall are located just to the north of Beijing. These include the Badaling and Huang Hua Great Walls, along with the Simitai Great Wall shown on this page.
The Simitai Great Wall is part of the Ji Zhen Great Wall, an area of the wall stretching approximately 900 kilometers in length. The Ji Zhen Great Wall is merely one of the "Nine-Frontier Vital Commands" into which the Ming-era Great Wall was divided (commands of equal rank were later given to Beijing's own defenses along with the spiritually significant site of the Ming Tombs). Each zhen (garrison) was overseen by a military commander appointed by the Imperial Court. The commander of each zhen not only oversaw strategic defense of his area of the wall, but was also in charge of keeping it in good condition and growing crops in nearby towns to support his cadre of soldiers. The garrison commander resided in a fortication called a 'cheng', which also served as a headquarters for transmitting communications along the length to the wall by signal fires or other means.
The Simitai Great Wall is located in especially mountainous country that crosses the strategically important Gubeikou pass. It was first constructed in the Northern Qi period using rammed earth, but was improved during the Wan Li era of the Ming dynasty with brick and stone masonry. The wall was also equipped with turrets fifty to a hundred meters apart. The area currently open to the public comprises over 30 watchtowers strung along a portion of the wall that straddles Mandarin Duck Lake. Many of the towers to the east of the lake have specific names, such as the "White Cloud Tower", "Watching Sea Tower", "General Tower", "Eyes of the Cat Tower", "Fairy Maiden Tower", "Watching Beijing Tower" and so forth.
Probably the most notable aspect of the Simitai Great Wall is its sheer vertical scale. In one area the wall is built along an 85 degree mountainside and is appropriately called the "Bridge To Heaven". The vertiginous landscape has proved both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, it has made it essentially impossible for the local population to remove portions of the wall for use in building homes and so forth (a common danger to other areas of the wall). On the other, it has made repairs to the wall difficult and dangerous, and many areas of the wall at Simitai are facing rapid erosion and decay.
Image drawn according to Google Earth and photos of signposts on site.
The approximate location of the Simitai Great Wall is 40.662120' N, 117.274955' E (WGS 84 map datum).
Images 1 - 21 copyright 2012 David Salazar (For more photos by David Salazar see http://www.flickr.com/photos/queimporta/sets/ ). Images 21 - 46 copyright Emile Phaneuf and Nick Cogan
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