Yongtai Ancient Town

Known locally as “Turtle City”, Yongtai Ancient Town acquired its unusual nickname due to its shape, which is said to look like that of a turtle from an aerial perspective. The gate at its south represents the head and the overall oval-shape of the town bears an uncanny resemblance to the shell of a turtle. Much like its reptilian counterpart, Yongtai Ancient Town was historically protected by defensive structures that once made it practically impenetrable! This garrison town was built in 1602, during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), in order to protect against invasions and attacks from nomadic groups in the north. During its heyday, it was home to around 2,000 infantrymen and 500 cavalry units!

It was originally surrounded by a 6-metre (20 ft.) wide and approximately 2-metre (7 ft.) deep moat. This was in turn backed by a formidable 12-metre (39 ft.) high wall, which was punctuated by 12 defensive forts and four gate-towers. While the moat has unfortunately dried up, the imposing city walls and the ancient houses that lie within them have been beautifully well-preserved and offer a stunning insight into China’s history. What is perhaps most impressive is that many of these constructions were made used loess soil, which has been packed together tightly to form a stable structure.

By the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), however, the town’s military importance began to wane and the population gradually declined. Nowadays, the town has been largely abandoned due to desertification and its remote location, meaning that its population has dropped from around 1,500 in the 1950s to less than 400 people today. For this reason, it’s imperative that you visit the town as soon as possible, so that you can see the locals’ traditional way of life before it is deserted entirely. 

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Explore the Silk Road in China – Exclusive Itinerary for December 2020