The Great Wall in Inner Mongolia (Nèiménggǔ Chángchéng, 内蒙古长城) embodies ancient China's deepest penetration into Mongol lands. The Wall follows the course of the Yellow River north, along the Ordos Loop, bordering the Helan Mountains (Hèlán Shān, 贺兰山) west of Hohhot before turning south again toward Shaanxi Province.
Inner Mongolia's Great Wall fascinates for a number of reasons, beginning with the Ordos Loop itself, which describes the northernmost reach of the Yellow River. South of the Loop are farmlands and villages long influenced by Han Chinese agricultural society; north of it lie prairie and steppe lands traditional to nomadic Mongol herdsmen. It's safe to say that the Inner Monglian stretch of the Great Wall is where much of the contact between "defender" and "invader" took place.
The fortifications along this stretch were more often small fortress-towns instead of mere garrisoned towers—a necessity deep in the virtual no-man's land between central China's farmlands and the pastures of Mongolia.
Over the years, many a Chinese official tried to encourage southerners to move north to help push back the Mongols, while also encouraging northern horsemen to settle down and farm. The mixed legacy of such policies is still legible in the ruins of the Wall and traces of old garrisons.
There are two major fortress-towns that remain fairly intact in Inner Mongolia, the Jilu Fortress (Jīlù Sài, 鸡鹿塞) and the Gaoque Fortress (Gāoquē Sài, 高阙塞). Both are situated on the northern curve of the Ordos Loop, taking advantage of the natural barrier presented by the river.
Jilu Fortress is in the far west of Inner Mongolia near the town of Dengkou (Dèngkǒu Xiàn, 磴口县). First constructed in the Han Dynasty upon the foundations of even older walls dating back to the Warring States period, the Han Wall did not survive intact for long after the dynasty itself fell to repeated attacks from the north that wore down the dispirited and scattered defenses. Today, Jilu Fortress is a collection of ruins that were once a small city surrounded by thriving farms.
Gaoque Fortress stands between the Lang Shan and Ying Shan mountain ranges, further to the east. Defensive settlements go back over 2,000 years to the the Zhou Dynasty.
Today, it may seem strange to have built a fortress atop rocky hills in the middle of a desert, but 2,000 years ago, this was fertile, open land fought over by horsemen from the north and farmers from the south. The desert, however, seems to have won the longer war.
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