The Jiayuguan Fortress could either mark the beginning or the end of the Great Wall (depending on which direction you started from) and serves as a post to guard against the wild west of the East. In ancient times, it was seen as a strategic military post, and is shrouded in a wide variety of legends.
In the days of its original construction, people the emperor banished from China were sent here, and exiled from China. The fort was seen as the last outpost of civilization before entering the vast Gobi Desert.
Today, however, visitors will encounter a very different kind of feeling. Workers in thin tinfoil-like armor march around in formation, while carnival-like games offer a chance to “hit the Mongolian’” with a bow and arrow. Vendors offer short camel rides and cannons perch atop the fortress, aiming at empty desert. In short, where once there were lonely sentinels, now there is merchandise–goods that, in the past, may have been treasures brought along that very Silk Road journey.
That being said, there is still a feeling of vastness and desolation, looking out into the desert from the fortress. To get the best sensation of being on one end of the Great Wall, travel out to the wall itself (it ends at a canyon a few miles away). There, in the quiet desert, the wall is replaced by barren wasteland. And from that distance the kitschy fortress looks a bit more like the imposing bulwark it must have been at one time.
Know Before You Go
Located on the Lanzhou-Xinjiang railway line in China.