Any great wall needs at least one great pass and, by Chinese estimation (they ought to know), Juyong Pass (Jūyōng Guān, 居庸关) is one of three great passes punctuating the ancient defense line as it winds its way across northern China. The other two mark each end of the Great Wall, with Shanhaiguan to the east overlooking the Yellow Sea and Jiayuguan at the far western extremity of China's most famous—and the world's largest—landmark.
The pass—a convenient 50 km (31 mi) north of Beijing—overlooks the 18 km (11 mi) long Guangou Valley in which numerous battles were fought and where Chinese dynastic leaders, starting with the Qin emperor in the third century BC, ordered massive defensive works built to protect against frequent forays by aggressive Mongol and Manchu tribesmen.
At the northern reach of the pass is Badaling, the most-visited point on the Great Wall. The southern end is known as the Southern Pass (Nán Guān, 南关) and, in between the two, you'll find the Cloud Platform (Yún Tái, 云台), a monumental watchtower made of white marble which was erected during the Yuan Dynasty by the Mongol conquerors whose ancestors had been held at bay for so long on the other side of the Great Wall.
At the tower's base, a broad carved archway once let soldiers and warhorses pass through. Today, it hosts visitors who come to see the Buddhist reliefs on the inside walls.
The area has changed a lot over the years, experiencing periods of fortification construction alternating with times of destruction, as one dynasty gave way to another.
The present pass is much as the Ming left it, though it has, of course, experienced intensive renovation. The valley and its landmarks make for a lovely spring or fall outing, when the grasses, flowers, trees and weather are all likely to be at their best.
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