Pingyao Ancient City: A Walled Tortoise City
Pingyao Ancient City is a World Heritage site about 100 kilometers away to a north Chinese provincial capital called Taiyuan. Whereas the rest China is embracing an intensive modernization in a fast pace, Pingyao tenaciously holds onto its past. When its gray city walls, watchtowers, and gate towers are bathed in the morning sun, whoever has the come close to it will be overwhelmed by its imposing glory and feel like stepping back in time. It is a place where past is still alive.
Pingyao's old walled city is also called the Tortoise City. Enclosed in the 6163 meters long intact city walls is a perfectly preserved ancient town of Chinese Han nationality in Ming and Qing Dynasty. Historical buildings including Chinese courtyard mansions, temples, old shops and more than 3,000 old houses, which have unfolded a full picture of Chinese society in history.
The name of the Tortoise City consists of two meanings. The first meaning comes from that the city resembles the outline of a tortoise. Its head lies at the south gate, its four feet at the east and west gates, and its tail at the north gate. The two wells just beyond southern gate are the eyes. A web of alleys links the main streets in such a way that even the layout of the town resembles the markings on a turtle shell. The south gate is special and looks like a tortoise's head from above. It was actually built for a key defensive function of the city, the biggest entrapment gate of all 6 city gates. Pingyao's city gates look like a normal city gate from outside. But if the sieging enemies believed what they saw and broke into the gate, they were trapped into a deadly killing zone. There comes the second meaning of the Tortoise City, impenetrable stronghold.
The city wall system of Pingyao was believed like a tortoise's shell that perfectly protected the city. The fortifications of the Tortoise City are highly sophisticated. There are totally 72 watchtowers and 6 entrapment city gates with gate towers connected by the 12 meters high city walls. The walls are 8 to 12 meters thick at basement and average 5 meters thick at the top. There are platforms every 50m with 3,000 crenels on the outer wall. The whole city is surrounded by moats 3 meters deep and 3 to 10 meters wide, with 6 suspension bridges in front of the 6 city gates. The effectiveness of these military constructions have been proved by wars. Pingyao has won almost all battles against enemy sieges in the history, and survived as the best preserved ancient city in China.