Lanzhou (蘭州): A Golden City in the Centre

(14-16th June) Along the upper reaches of the Yellow River lie a key thoroughfare for ancient traders and explorers, from China to Persia, from the Middle East to Europe. Covering an area of 14,620 square kilometres along the Yellow River, it is strategically located at the southern end of the route leading through the Hexi Corridor across Central Asia.  This is where Qilian Mountain ranges extend southwards, where it paves a crucial gateway to Xian, the ancient capital.  This place, endowed by the natural protection of such unique environment, is Lanzhou, the capital city of Gansu Province.

During the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD), Lanzhou was named as the “Golden City” presumably because of its utmost significance towards the military defence in the Hexi Corridor and beyond the Chinese heartland.  It has been a geometric centre since early times, in an east-west extension of a long and narrow valley, sandwiched between two hills in the North and the South.  To protect this corridor, the Great Wall was extended as far as Yumen amidst Han Dynasty.  During the subsequent years, it became a vital military city and thus was promoted to the county level in year 81 BC and even to the Prefecture.

The name was changed to Lanzhou city during the early Sui Dynasty (AD 581-618) until Tang (618-907 AD) dynasty.  As a great hub on the ancient Silk Road, Xuanzang, a Buddhist monk of the Tang Dynasty, passed through this city on his pilgrimage to India.  Additionally, Marco Polo also spent an entire year in Lanzhou when he was embarking on a travel adventure.  Following the fall of the Tang Empire in 763, the city fell under the control of Tibet, and later was succumbed to fierce Mongolian invasions in 1235.  Genghis Khan, the universal ruler of the Mongols, made the most of his military tactics and campaigns to unify Mongol tribes through Lanzhou.  After several splits from Chinese territory, the city once again acquired its current name in 1656 and became the capital of Gansu ten years later.

Nowadays, Lanzhou is more famous as a starting point to explore the renowned Silk Road.  Not only does it impress us with the city’s historical part, but also its gorgeous landscapes and its evolving development.  As thousands of years elapsed, their cultural heritages still endured, especially well-known by its Yellow River, a sculpture, a bridge, and a bowl of noodles.  Besides the Yellow River waves lies a granite-structured Mother Sculpture with a mother, who is smiling at her baby lying on her back.  The sculpture connotes the Chinese people’s respect and their blessings to the Yellow River.  For linking the other side, the Zhongshan Bridge, an iron bridge built in the late Qing Dynasty by German engineers, was the first permanent bridge to guard across the Yellow River.

It is also where the popular beef noodles were founded.  Consisting of a flavorful, clear broth, shaved beef, and chewy handmade noodles, this bowl of hot delight long becomes the typical dish in most of the chain-restaurants across the city.  An authentic Lanzhou beef noodle soup is described to be “1 clear, 2 white, 3 red, 4 green, 5 yellow” to signify clear broth, white radish, red chilli oil, green coriander and garlic leek and yellow noodles respectively.  Alkali ash, a traditional important ingredient in this hand-pulled noodles, brings a faintly yellowish to the noodles instead of using an egg.  No wonder Such an aromatic, hearty bowl of fresh noodles has been acclaimed as No.1 Noodles in China.

lanzhou yellow river
Scenery near Yellow River
lanzhou yellow river 4
Yellow River
lanzhou yellow river 1
Yellow River
lanzhou yellow river 2
Zhongshan Bridge
beef noodles 1
Bowl of beef noodles
beef noodles
Side dishes of noodles

Once a pivotal city on the Ancient Silk Road, Lanzhou endeavours to revive its prominence as a future gateway to the West, and is being primed to be a major hub of the Silk Road Economic Belt.  Given Lanzhou’s prime location, an 800-square-kilometre New Area is expedited currently, with a free-trade zone, an information technology centre and high-rise apartment blocks as the first state-level economic zone in northwest China.  Beyond that, the broader ambition to position itself as a manufacturing centre also soars in industries of electronics, high-end machinery, and cross-border e-commerce.  What’s more, thanks to the rapid infrastructural development, it is already not a consternation to witness a colossal maze of high-speed railways, pipelines and power plants in the city that is tightly bound to the other parts of China.

As the bullet train sliced past the Lanzhou city after our 3-day stay, we could hardly imagine how fast-paced this city has been developed in these years.  Passing through gale-swept grasslands and snowy mountains, this high-speed railway further symbolises how determined China is to draw the western region under Beijing’s embrace, and how prosperous China’s New Silk Road would become in the future.  No matter in bygone centuries or contemporary era, Lanzhou was, is and will still be the paramount place where the locals could be proud of its city’s treasure and achievements.  ♦

lanzhou view
Lanzhou city’s view
high speed railway.JPG
China’s high-speed railway from Lanzhou to Urumqi


Next travel post: Zhangye National Geopark (張掖丹霞) – China’s Rainbow Mountains

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