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China 7: Beijing city wall ruins

One of Beijing’s most fascinating historical aspects for me are its fortifications. Most of these have been obliterated from existence but among the few remains is a section of the old inner city wall.

From the Temple of Heaven we did a subway bounce over to Chongwenmen Station and trotted over to the Ming City Wall Relics Park. Chongwenmen was named for the city gate that once stood there until it was pulled down in the 1960s in the name of urban development.

One end of the remaining section of wall

One end of the remaining section of wall

Beijing’s subway was constructed by cutting the tunnels into the ground and then building over them. This required clearing whatever was above ground and rather than deal with the massive task of rehousing people, the subway was built where the 500+ year old walls and moats were.

They were already in a deteriorated state – fair enough, they were built in the 1400s – and partial dismantling had already occurred in earlier military conflicts and out of practicality given the high cost of maintenance.

- Just no!

– Just no!

A 1.5km section of wall – located between Chongwenmen and Dongbianmen gates – was spared because the metro line veered over to Beijing Railway Station instead of following the direction of the wall. Eventually it was named a cultural heritage site and about 25 years after that the park opened.

We followed the meandering path alongside the wall, much of which has undergone some restoration. Some parts do look marvellously original(ish) though.

The path took us to a ticket office and through to where you could walk up to the top of the wall.

A gate was cut into the wall for railway tracks after a line was built over the moat outside the wall

A gate was cut into the wall for railway tracks after a line was built over the moat outside the wall

Walking up to the ramparts. The stairs used to be ramps for horses.

C’mon legs! Walking up to the ramparts. The stairs used to be ramps for horses.

We could see sun umbrellas and the possibility of cold drinks lured us down there.

We could see sun umbrellas and the possibility of cold drinks lured us down there.

Now THAT'S what we're talkin' about

Now THAT’S what we’re talkin’ about

Beyond the café/bar the restored and earth-filled wall extends out of sight

Beyond the café/bar the restored and earth-filled wall extends out of sight

The Southeast Corner Watchtower now contains an art gallery and really interesting photo exhibition. From here the wall used to head off to the left (north).

The Southeast Corner Watchtower now contains an art gallery and really interesting photo exhibition. From here the wall used to head off to the left (north).

Graffiti was left by American and Russian forces after they captured the tower during the Boxer Rebellion in 1900. (However, one pesky contradictory detail for me is that the year looks like 1906.)

Graffiti was left by American and Russian forces after they captured the tower during the Boxer Rebellion in 1900. (However, one pesky contradictory detail for me is that the year looks like 1906.)

South of the wall: freeway and high rise

South of the wall: freeway and high rise

North of the wall: Beijing Train Station

North of the wall: Beijing Train Station

We walked down and back along the path the way we came, beside the big fantastic in situ museum piece, on what used to be a dirt road next to a moat.

And back to where we started. The Chongwenmen Gate used to be here and the wall used to extend straight ahead

And back to where we started. The Chongwenmen Gate used to be here and the wall used to extend straight ahead. Amazing to think, if blimmin hard to visualise.

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10 Comments Post a comment
  1. You’re a treasure trove of wonderful information about Beijing! As for those signs that all say NO… reminds me distinctly of another strictly regulated city/state, Singapore 😉

    24 October 2014
    • Thanks Amit, I’m glad you think so! Another similarity could be the tidiness (of sorts) – we saw so many people whose job it was to pick up rubbish. However, cleanliness is another thing and I imagine there isn’t as much of the spitting habit in Singapore.

      25 October 2014
      • I’ll agree with you on the spitting score, though who knows what happens behind closed courtyards & doors in The Sanitized City? 😉

        25 October 2014
  2. The pics and the wall are so interesting. Amazing things that the Chinese do with transportation and for the benefit of tourism.

    25 October 2014
    • Hi Yvonne, thank you! The 2008 Olympics were a major catalyst for expanding the subway and I think the system they have today is fantastic for tourism. The bilingual Mandarin-English announcements inside the train were certainly very useful!

      25 October 2014
  3. Fascinating! This type of history is what I love to immerse myself in — whether in person, or vicariously through your words and photos.

    27 October 2014
    • It was a pleasure visiting somewhere with so much history and I’m glad I can channel bits of it to you!

      28 October 2014
  4. A fascinating place. Have you seen the short film that is doing the rounds on social media at the moment, the one that the guy took with a drone flying all over Beijing? It’s a beauty and I’m sure that you will enjoy it. I’m so jel of your China trip, it’s somewhere that I’d really love to visit.

    28 October 2014
    • I’ve just watched what I think is the clip you’re referring to – very cool. Thanks Lottie!

      28 October 2014

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