A town at the northern tip of the Bohai Gulf, SHANHAIGUAN (山海关, shānhăiguān) “the Pass Between the Mountains and the Sea”, was originally built during the Ming dynasty as a fortress to defend the eastern end of the Great Wall. The wall crosses the Yanshan mountains to the north, forms the east wall of the town and meets the sea a few kilometres to the south. Far from being a solitary castle, Shanhaiguan originally formed the centre of a network of defences: smaller forts, now nothing but ruins, existed to the north, south and east, and beacon towers were dotted around the mountains. The town’s obvious tourist potential is now being tapped, and extensive demolition and reconstruction continues within the city walls as the tide of tourist buses visiting the town grows ever larger. It’s obvious not much money has made its way into the town outside the battlements, and aside from the reconstructed streets (now given over to tourist shops and restaurants) the hutongs of the old town are squalid and crumbling. That said, the odd courtyarded gem makes Shanhaiguan a good place to explore on foot and an excellent base for visiting the Great Wall sites of Lao Long Tou and Jiao Shan.
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