Simatai Great Wall

Simatai a section of the Great Wall of China located in the north of Miyun County, 120 km northeast of Beijing, holds the access to Gubeikou, a strategic pass in the eastern part of the Great Wall. Originally built during the Northern Qi dynasty (550-577) and rebuilt in the Hongwu years of the Ming dynasty by Qi Jiguang, this section of Great Wall is one of the few to retain the original features of the Ming dynasty Great Wall.

Simatai Great Wall is 5.4 km long with 35 beacon towers. Ingeniously conceived and uniquely designed, this section of Great Wall, inimitable and diversified, has incorporated the different characteristics of each section of the Great Wall. No wonder the famous specialist of Great Wall, Professor Luo Zhewen, says: "The Great Wall is the best of the Chinese buildings, and Simatai is the best of the Great Wall." UNESCO has designated Simatai Great Wall as one of the World Cultural Heritage sites.

Hanging precariously onto the Yanshan Mountain, Simatai Great Wall is known for its steepness, ingenuity and uniqueness.

Simatai Great Wall is separated by a valley into eastern and western parts. The western part appears gentle with 20 well-preserved watchtowers dotting along the wall. The eastern part is much steeper, following more rugged terrain that includes cliff edges and kilometre-high peaks. The 15 watchtowers are relatively closely spaced and provide spectacular views. Main attractions in the eastern part include Watching Beijing Tower, Fairy Tower, Heavenly Ladder and Sky Bridge, though they are currently closed to the public for safety reasons.

 * Watching Beijing Tower: At an elevation of 986 meters, it is regarded as the summit of the Simatai Great Wall as well as the highest cultural relic in Beijing. Its name comes from the fact that at night (with good visibility), one can see the lights of Beijing shimmering in the distance 120 km away. More interesting is that the bricks used to built the walls here even stamped with the date on which they were made and the code numbers of the armies that made them.

 * Fairy Tower: With a sculpture of twin lotus flowers above the arched doors, it is considered by many to be the most beautiful of all towers and is known for its exquisite architecture. Legend goes that it was the dwelling place for an antelope reincarnated in the form of an angel who fell in love with a shepherd.

 * Heavenly Ladder: Climbing the mountainside at a steep 80-degree gradient, the Heavenly Ladder is the way to Watching Beijing Tower and the Fairy Maiden Tower. Stretching upward along the abrupt mountain ridges, the narrowest part is just half a meter wide.

  * Sky Bridge: As little as 40 centimeters wide in places, this 100-meter long segment of the wall connects the Fairy Tower to Watching Beijing Tower. It is said that only brave man can traverse the Sky Bridge.

 * Open Air Gondolas provide a way to ascend part way up the wall.

* A great hike is to traverse from JinShanLing to Simatai

Goats played an important role in building this section of the Great Wall on such precarious mountain ridge centuries ago, with each goat carrying a single brick to the top on each trip. Ironically, goats also played an equally important role in its dismay centuries later after its construction. Peasants residing near the site raised goats to generate extra income, and the goats eat the vegetation that protects the soil around the wall from erosion.

In order to protect and recover the vegetation, the Chinese government banned the local population from raising goats, but peasants protested, claiming that the governmental compensation was not enough, and that they do not receive any benefits from the tourism. Many peasants also blame low compensation on corruption, a controversy that remains to this date. The ban did, however, greatly help the recovery of the local vegetation.

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