Sublimely beautiful in the way only undisturbed ancient ruins can be, the Great Wall at Gubeikou (Gǔběikǒu Chángchéng, 古北口长城) is perhaps one of the most pristine and enjoyable sections of the Great Wall within day-trip reach of Beijing.
Situated 125 km (78 mi) from Beijing, Gubeikou was a strategic linchpin of China's northern defenses in dynastic times. Cutting across a narrow pass through the Yan Shan (Yān Shān, 燕山) range, Gubeikou stood watch over the only major corridor between China's heartland and the north for hundreds of kilometers.
Construction on this 40 km (25 mi) stretch of wall began 1,500 years ago during the short-lived Northern Qi Dynasty (550-577 AD), with reinforcements coming with every subsequent dynasty. The bastion would eventually comprise secondary walls and towers capable of housing the 100-man garrisons which formed a first line of defense against incursions by Manchu, Mongol and Jurchen tribes over the ages.
Peaceful and free of the touristy trappings of the Great Wall at Badaling, Gubeikou rewards hikers with vistas of tranquil, mountainous terrain and farmland, but it's considerable work to get there. Overgrown in some areas, crumbling in others, the wall here is not as welcoming to the casual visitor as the restored sections.
Highlights include the Wohu Shan (Wòhǔ Shān, 卧虎山) and Panlong Shan (Pánlóng Shān, 蟠龙山; RMB 25) sections of the Great Wall, offering majestic views of the surrounding countryside from the towers over the gate guarding the pass. Taking the zip line from the last tower over the river to the opposite shore is great way to finish a trip to the area.
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