Xi'an City Wall
At the time when Zhu Yuanzhang captured Huizhou long before the establishment of the Ming Dynasty, he was admonished by a hermit named Zhu Sheng, who told him to "build high walls, store abundant provisions and take your time in proclaiming yourself emperor". Zhu Yuanzhang followed his advice. Once the whole country was unified, he sent orders to the local governments to build city walls on a large scale. The city wall of Xi'an is an extension of the old Tang Dynasty structure, as a result of this Wall building campaign.
The city wall, after its extension in the Ming Dynasty, stands 12 meters high. It is 12 to 14 meters across the top, 15 to 18 meters thick at the bottom and 13.7 kilometers in length.
There is a rampart every 120 meters, which extends out from the main wall. The top of the rampart is at the same level as the top of the wall. The ramparts were built to allow soldiers to see those enemies who would try to climb over the wall. The distance between every two ramparts is just within the range of arrow shot from either side. This allowed soldiers to protect the entire wall without exposing themselves to the enemy. There are altogether 98 of them on the wall; each has a sentry building on top of it.
The weapons in ancient times were primitive. The gates of the city wall were the only way to go into and out of town. Therefore, these gates were important, strategic points. The feudal rulers racked their brains to try to defend them. In Xi'an, each of the east, west, south and north gates consists of three gate towers. Zhalou stands away from the wall. It is used to lift and lower the suspension bridge. Jianlou is in the center of the others. There are square windows in the front and on the two sides to shoot arrows from. zhenglou is the inner one and is also the main entrance to the city. Jianlou and zhenglou are connected by walls and the encircled area is called wongcheng in which soldiers could be stationed. From wongcheng, there are also horse passages leading to the top of the wall. These are gradually ascending steps that make it easy for chargers to ascend and descend. There are altogether 11 horse passages around the city.
A watchtower is located on each of the four corners of the wall. The one at the southwestern corner is round, probably built on the foundation of the imperial city wall of the Tang Dynasty, but the other three are square-shaped. On the top of the watch towers there is a corner-rampart, higher and larger than the sentry building on the ramparts. This shows the strategic importance of the corners of the city wall in war times.
Along the outer crest of the city wall, there are crenellations or battlements, 5,984 in total. Under each crenel there is a square hole, from which arrows were shot and watch was kept. The lower inner walls on the top of the city wall are called parapets. They have no crenels. They were designed to prevent soldiers from falling off the wall when traveling back and forth on top of the wall.
The city wall of Xi'an was first built of earth, rammed layer up-on layer. The base layer was made of earth, quicklime, and glutinous rice extract, tempered together. It made the wall extremely strong and firm. Later, the wall was faced with bricks. On top of the wall, there is a brick trough every 40 to 60 meters. They are used for drainage. They have played a very important role in the long-term protection of the city wall of Xi'an.
A moat, wide and deep, runs around the city. Over the moat at the south Gate, there used to be a huge suspension bridge that cut off the way in and out of the city, once lifted.
Thus, the Ming Dynasty city wall formed a complex and well-organized system of defense. It is also the most complete city wall that has survived through China's long history. The city wall itself is a true display of the ability and wisdom of the working people in ancient times. It provides invaluable and substantial material for the study of the history, military science, and architecture of the Ming Dynasty.
Today, after the repairs that have been made on the wall by the local government, the city wall has taken on a new look. A circular Park has been built in between the high wall and the deep moat, all around the city. Together they make Xi'an all the more beautiful.
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