Situated around 54 kilometres north from Chongqing on the G75 motorway, Hechuan is a major satellite city that is home to a number of interesting sites of historical importance. Top of the list is without doubt the ‘Fishing City钓鱼城（Diao yu cheng)’ Hechuan Citadel, an ancient fortress where a thirty six year stand-off between the Song Country宋国 and Mongolian Empire ultimately led to the latter’s collapse.
Well over a million people now live in the city of Hechuan itself, and the past decade has seen huge investment in beautification, modernisation and tourism. This has made the city a more desirable place to live, and where the aesthetic appeal matches the natural scenery that includes the confluence of three large rivers, the Jialing嘉陵江, Fu涪江 and Qu渠江.
At the time of my first ever visit in 2003, Hechuan was more of a backwater. It was not connected to the motorway network, and the only way to access the city was zig-zagging through miles of windy mountainside tracks ploughed constantly by heavy trucks, or by taking a boat trip down the Jialing River towards Chongqing.
The skyline and riversides were stacked with ubiquitous dirty concrete facades, man powered tricycle taxis packed the streets at 2 Yuan per journey, and the only form of entertainment I knew of apart from karaoke clubs was an antiquated skating rink.
Fast forward to the present day, the bullet train connects to Chongqing in under half an hour. All the riversides have been beautifully pedestrianised and landscaped, the previous unsightly buildings have been given a facelift with new tiles and decorative features. The huge rusty old barges that transported sand along the river have been moved away from the residential areas, especially since the completion of the Caojie Hydro-Electric Damn草街电站 down river. Malls have sprung up with modern cinemas and international brands. The area surrounding the White Pagoda白塔 that survived the Cultural Revolution has been made the centre-piece of Wenfeng Old Town文峰古街.
At night, the whole city and riversides are attractively lit up, and new parks, roads, bridges, a huge new public library and modern amenities now make Hechuan a very pleasant trip out of Chongqing.
Now to the main focus of my post today.
On first impressions, the citadel may appear a slightly innocuous feature that covers a mere two and a half square kilometres, but this fortress proved the downfall of the Mongolian Empire in the thirteenth century, just as they were to expand into Europe and Africa, meaning this now tourist site once played a pivotal role in world history.
It was at this precise location where the Mongol Army intended to invade further into the Song Country, but were impeded by this fortress built on top of a steep hillside that overlooks the rivers below.
The name of ‘Fishing City’ stems from soldiers during the military stand-off sustaining themselves on fish from the rivers, and hanging them from the turrets as a statement that they could not be sieged into surrender.
In 1259, the emperor Mongke Khan蒙哥汗 travelled to this citadel to inspect the state of affairs, but in an ensuing battle, he was struck by catapult and subsequently died of his injuries.
After 36 years, the expenditure of energy and resources led to the Mongol Empire retreating from Central Asia and the Middle East, an act without which the history of Europe may well have been drastically changed.
The Main Sights
In the last ten years, the site has been upgraded with new structures to attract tourists, like a visitors centre, museum with statues, artifacts and historical information, amenities, a soldiers’ barracks, and pony rides, all on top of the original historical site itself.
The iconic image of the Fishing Citadel is the tower gateway separating the inner section from the walkway leading down the mountain. Other points of interest are the battery platforms and citadel walls, the well that once provided fresh water, and the Buddhist relics.
Down from the tower gateway is one of the largest lying Buddhas卧佛 in the world. Tourists are encouraged to invite good luck by lighting candles and incense, but also by bending flexible bamboo sticks into the cut-out rock face.
Another Buddhist feature is a wall of figures carved into the rock. You will notice that their faces have been chiseled off, an unfortunate result of the Cultural Revolution many decades ago.
The the lush environment and pleasant views of the surrounding countryside and city make the citadel a great place to explore for a morning or afternoon.
The ticket price is now a reasonable thirty Yuan, and if you don’t have access to personal transport, the number 929 public bus is available from the People’s Park人民公园, and drops you not far from the ticket office and main entrance.