If you read my post on the Qianmen Gatehouse, then you know that most of the original Tartar wall that surrounded Beijing was taken down in the late 1960s.
I did know, though, that part of that wall still remained. I was on a hunt to find it.
A Little about the Tartar Wall
The Tartar Wall protected the Ming Dynasty imperial capital for 550 years. Being built in the early 1400s, it was a massive wall of rammed clay. In 1436, it was encased in bricks, looking much as it does today. Reaching a height of 60 feet, it had a broad 40 foot top walkway.
For entry and exit, it had 9 huge gates. Impressive gatehouses, such as the one at Qianmen, stood above them like wooden decorated sentinels. It must have been impressive to see in its prime.
Out with the Old, In with the New
Beijing wanted to have all the transportation options that any capital city had. In this case, that included a subway. Just about all modern large capitals had a subway for moving people in and out of the city without clogging the roads. Plus, it had the extra functions of bomb shelter and transportation not affected by weather. Sounded like a fair trade. After all, it was in the way of progress.
My Connection to the Tartar Wall
In the blog posts about the Foreign Legations Quarter and the Qianmen Gatehouse, the Tartar Wall is an important part. Chester M Biggs, Jr., here at the start of World War II, was my friend, and he actually walked this wall many times. As we were both US Marines, I wanted to honor him by seeing what was left of the Foreign Legation area that he knew.
Also, during the Boxer Rebellion of 1900, the US Marines were an integral part of the defense of the Wall section above the Legation Quarter. Even though that part of the wall did not exist anymore, I wanted to see what was left of this piece of Marine Corp history. Now, let’s find that wall.
Walking Next to the Remaining Wall
The wall remnant is located directly east and south of the new Beijing Train Station. The section from just north of the southeast archery corner tower to the previous location of the old Hat ta men Gate stands as a testament to the ancient barrier of Beijing.
I and my private guide, Mr Brian, were taken by my driver, Mr Jing, to the JW Marriot Hotel at the Wall, the northern starting point of the remaining wall segments. The Chinese have made a park on the outside of the remaining wall. This park follows the base of the wall south to the tower, and then west to the previous location of the first major gate, Hat Ta Men.
It is an easy stroll of about 1.1 miles; take your time and enjoy it.
As you reach the southeast corner of the city wall, you will be in front of the huge corner archery tower. If you step out onto the pedestrian bridge at the corner, you can get a picture with the tower behind you. Stop here and get a picture of yourself and this iconic piece of Beijing’s history.
Please note that the Foreign Legation foreigners knew this archery tower as Fox Tower. Today, it is called the Dongbianmen Watchtower.
Turning and continuing west, the park opens before you with a large expanse of grass. There is a small garden of (peach?) trees here with places to sit. This is a favorite place for citizens to walk their song birds in the morning and fly their kites on windy days. They were flying them as Brian and I walked. It was restful to see some of the Chinese people enjoying themselves.
Just by here is the wharf entrance through the wall where grain was unloaded from the parallel Grand Canal. Now, this opening is the entrance to an art museum, Red Gate Gallery, Cost is 10 yuan for the entrance fee. You will have access to the 1st, 3rd, and 4th levels of the tower itself. The 3rd level has an exhibit of the history of the wall and the gates of Beijing. On the 4th level, you can get a great view of the city. Thanks to Brian Wallace at Red Gate Gallery for giving me these extra details.
We did not have time to go in, so we continued on our way. Next time I will go experience the tower and gallery for you.
I had wanted to go on top of the wall, but my guide, Brian, informed me that there was no access to the top. Well, I had seen so much, and it was all so awesome, that I was able to contain my disappointment.
Duh! The Wall Can Be Walked On!
ADDED 07-09-2012 – Brian at Red Gate Gallery informed me that a couple of hundred meters of the top wall was accessible to walk on. It even has a tea shop and a coffee/sandwich shop. :O Access it through the gate at the bottom of the tower. Brian also wants me to point out that both the wall and the tower are excellent vantage points for train tourists to watch trains coming into and out of the Beijing Train Station. The wall parallels it.
Start a Blog? Are You Kidding Me?
That is when I thought that, if I became a famous travel writer, maybe they would let me climb it next time.It was the first spark of the idea for this blog. (Now I know that I can walk on the top of the wall, easily. Fame not required. Duh!)
My guide and I finished our visit to the Tartar Wall of Beijing. The remains are still massive, the tower impressive, and the walk in the park calming. What more could I ask for?
ADDED 07/03/2012 – How This Relates to “Midnight In Peking” – Laura alerted me in the comments to the book by Paul French named “Midnight in Peking”. The entrance shown in the video above is the location where the mutilated body of Pamela Werner was found in 1937, as relayed in the novel. This novel is based on papers from the real case about a murder of a schoolgirl in Peking, and the unrelenting investigation pursued by her father. Excellent walking audio notes and map here.
ADDED 07/03/2012 – Information on the Red Gate Gallery – The Red Gate Gallery, located inside the tower, is the oldest Chinese contemporary art gallery in Beijing. It has been there 21 years as of 2012. Go by and say hi to Brian Wallace, and let him know that you saw his name here. Here is the latest information.
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