A Cultural Journal

    The Ancient Town of Gaochang

    Written by: He Chao - Posted on: September 02, 2012 | Post your comment here Comments | 中文 (Chinese)

    Google Translation: اُردو | 中文

    Ancient Town of Gaochang, China

    Ancient Town of Gaochang, China

    The ancient town of Gaochang was once the capital city of the Gaochang (Kocho, Kharakhoja or "King City") Uigur Kingdom. Lying at the Mutougou River Delta at the foot of Flaming Mountain, 45 km east of Turpan City of the Xinjiang Uigur Autonomous Region, Gaochang served as an important commercial and cultural center on the ancient Silk Road and played an important role in the history of communication between ancient China and the West. The once thriving capital city was gradually deserted over a period of more than 2,000 years, but the site of the ancient town is still visible and the city wall still stands in the basin not far from Flaming Mountain. The ancient town of Gaochang was listed as a key cultural relics unit under the protection of the state in 1961.

    Gaochang was initially constructed during the first century BC, by the troops of the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-25 AD). They had garrisoned the Anterior kingdom of Cheshi, an ancient kingdom in the Western Regions, for the purpose of reclaiming the wasteland and growing food grain. According to historical records, the city was situated on a high and vast piece of land, and was home to a large population; hence the name “Gaochang” (a high and prosperous city) was given to it. From the time of the Han Dynasty to that of the Jin Dynasty (6 BC - 420 AD), troops were sent by the Central Governments to establish military posts and manage the farmland, and so it also came to be known as the Garrison City.

    Gaochang suffered from wars and chaos and was ruled by several ethnic groups during its history. In 327, Zhangjun, king of the Former Liang Dynasty, established Gaochang County there. The city was subsequently controlled by rulers of the Former Qin, Later Liang, Western Liang and Northern Liang dynasties (376 - 403). In 442, Juqu Wuhui of the Northern Liang dynasty established his kingdom in Gaochang. In 450, Juqu Auzhou broke through and occupied Jiaohe City, the capital of the Anterior Kingdom of Cheshi. In 460, Rouran, a nomadic kingdom of the region, helped Khan Bozhou become the king after conquering Cheshi . The newly-born kingdom was named Gaochang.

    Hereafter Gaochang was successively attacked by other troops of ethnic groups. During the mid-13th century, the nomadic Mongol aristocrats, led by Haido and Dowa, started a series of rebellions and trespassed on the Gaochang Uigur Kingdom time after time. As a result, Gaochang city was damaged severely and lost its former prosperity. In 1275, a Mongol troop of 120,000 soldiers besieged the city and the warfare lasted 40 years. Thus, the once thriving capital city of an important kingdom was eventually destroyed and vanished into history.

    Gaochang long served as an economic and trade hub, having connected inland China, Central Asia and Europe since the time of the Han and Tang Dynasties (206 BC - 907 AD). Religions from all over the world were introduced into the inland China area through Gaochang by merchants from home and abroad. Gaochang was one of the most important religious centers of the world at that time, boasting various religious cultures. It is said that Xuanzang, the renowned Buddhist monk-traveler of the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907), delivered lectures in Gaochang on his pilgrimage to India in search of Buddhist sutras. He was a close friend of the ruler of the Gaochang Kingdom.

    The ancient town site we see today was constructed during the reign of the ancient Uigurs on the bases of the old Gaochang city, left over from the Tang Dynasty. The new city, an irregular square in shape, covered an area of 2.20 million square meters. The general pattern of the city was similar to that of what was then Chang'an City of the Tang Dynasty. After successive construction for many years, the city came into being. It comprised of three parts: the outer city, the inner city and the palace city.

    The wall of the outer city is fairly well preserved, with some sections being remarkably so. The city wall had a perimeter of 5 km, being 12 m thick and 11.5 m high. Two or three gates were built in each side of the wall, of which the northern gate in the west side is best preserved. The wall was made of rammed clay, which was 8-12 cm thick and occasionally reinforced with adobes. In the southeastern and southwestern parts of the city there lie some ruined temples. The outer city was built during the reign of the Qu. According to historical documents, Gaochang City, at that time, was divided into outer and inner cities, each with four sides. The gates in all four directions each had a name, such as Qingyang Gate and Huide Gate. A satellite town was constructed when it was under the jurisdiction of the West Prefecture of the Tang Dynasty.

    The inner city sat in the middle of the outer city and to the south of the palace city. Its walls were made of rammed clay. Most sections of the southern and western sides are well preserved. On the eastern side only a raised area at the northeastern corner and an earth platform at the southeastern corner can now be seen. Part of the base of the collapsed wall in the middle and the northwestern corner can be seen as well. The sites of the gates in these two directions can no longer be found. It is estimated that the perimeter of the inner city is approximately 3,600 m, which is basically in accord with the measurement recorded in the History of the Sui Dynasty. The inner city was built earlier than the outer city. It is rectangular in shape with the distance between the south and the north being longer than that of east to west. The inner city principally held the palace city and the temple complex.

    The palace city was situated in the northernmost part of Gaochang city. Its north wall was part of the outer city wall and the south wall was part of the inner city wall. The city was shaped like a rectangle and had a perimeter of some 700 m. The site is vaguely identified according to the remnant base of the west wall, while the east wall has vanished completely. There are many rammed clay bases of a ruined palace which was as high as four stories. The bases are 3.5-4 m high and 35-48 cm thick. The palace city was initially located inside the Khan's palace building. It was moved north during the construction of the outer city under the reign of the Qu. The layout of the city was similar to that of Chang'an city. The palace city experienced large-scale construction during the reign of the Uigurs in Gaochang.

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