Almost three hours’ drive northwest of Beijing city is Yu County, home to ancient pagodas, temples, pavilions, and large gates and plaques inside fortified walled towns that preserve traces of the Zhou, Liao, Yuan, Ming, and Qing Dynasties.
We visit this area on an overnight trip, but this time we’re going to make a day of it with a visit to Jimingyi, the well-preserved remnants of a Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) postal relay center. As well a look back in time to the Ming Dynasty, Huijie reckons that that present-day Jimingyi reminds her a lot of 80’s Beijing—most interesting!
After an early lunch at a small guesthouse inside the walls, we’ll take a tour of the temples, courtyards, streets, and lanes of the town, looking at some well-preserved frescoes and walking through the big archways of the gates. We’ll then climb up on top of the thick walls, and make a circuit, looking down on the streets we walked, and out onto the Zhangjiakou plains.
Yu County and Zhangjiakou
Yu County is part of the larger Zhangjiakou prefecture-level city in Hebei Province. Zhangjiakou used to be known as Kalgan, which is a transliteration of its name in Mongolian: The Gate.
The Mongolian name is accurate: Zhangjiakou is right on the main route to Beijing from the northwest. The area has been the site of fortifications and wars since ancient times – notably, the Badger’s Mount Campaign in which Genghis Khan won a huge battle against the army of the Jin Dynasty in 1211.
How huge was that battle? Genghis Khan brought more than 90% of his entire force, leaving just 2,000 soldiers behind to protect Mongolia. It was his 90,000 versus almost 500,000 on the Jin side, split into three main armies.
We’re often asked if the Great Wall was actually used during wars, and it was in this battle – unsuccessfully! The Mongolian forces sent soldiers up into the hills to sneak around the back of the wall at Juyongguan. After they surprised the Jin troops with an attack from behind, the main force began a frontal attack, and it’s said that the Jin army stationed there was wiped out to a man. Juyongguan was a bad place to lose, because it’s the last line of Great Wall before Beijing City. The Mongolians occupied Juyongguan, and then laid siege to Beijing, which surrendered after four years.
We’re going out to Yu County to explore Jimingyi, a walled town that was fortified heavily during the Ming Dynasty and used as a postal relay station.
The extremely tall and thick walls have a total circumference of just under two kilometers, and were constructed in the same manner as some of the Great Wall: rammed earth in the middle, with an outer layer of bricks.
In the past, this must have been a very important place. As well as the huge walls, other fortifications include large gates topped by towers, towers on each corner of the main walls, and more outside. Inside the walls, there are five main streets that divided the city into planned and orderly sections – administration in the middle, stables and barns at the north, and other areas for accommodation.
To get to Jimingyi, we’ll follow much of the same route that the attacking Mongolians took on their way to Beijing, and we’ll see the Ming Dynasty-era Great Wall that was built up to prevent a return visit – a much higher level of fortification than the Jin Dynasty would have had.
09:00 — Leave from Lido Starbucks.
11:30 — Arrive at Jimingyi, early lunch in guesthouse.
12:30 — Explore Jimingyi’s temples, streets, lanes, and courtyards.
14:30 — Follow the walls of Jimingyi, walking on top all the way around.
15:30 — Start driving back to Beijing.
All times approximate.
What to bring on this hike
- Plenty of snacks to eat along the way.
- Sun protection: long-sleeved shirt, hat.
- Good hiking boots or sturdy shoes for walking.
- (Click here to read our full What to Bring on a Hike list)
Reasons you might not enjoy this hike
- It’s a long drive out there and back.
- This isn’t a hiking trip – it’s more like a relaxed stroll around an old town.