The spectacular fort at Jiayu Pass (Jiayuguan) marks the point where merchants, traders and exiles would leave the relative safety of Ming China to continue along the wild and desolate Silk Road. It is a breathtaking sight, with a ring of snow-capped mountains beyond the surrounding barren landscape.
The fort’s high defensive walls reveal the Ming dynasty’s fear of invasion by the last great nomadic conqueror, Timur (Tamerlane). Fortunately for the Chinese Empire, the Turkic Amir (general) died on route to Jiayuaguan. The invasion was subsequently called off.
If you visit Jiayuguan, you’ll be able to catch demonstrations and historical reenactments taking place on the ancient practice grounds throughout the day. To the east of Jiayuguan are hundreds of beautiful tombs and frescos dated to the Wei and Western Jin dynasties, a thousand years before the Ming Dynasty. All in all, this area gives you a real feel for the longevity of Chinese history and an impression of the immense and perilous journey merchants took to reach the West.