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Also known as the ‘City of the Coal’, Datong is located in the northern part of Shanxi Province. The city is famous in Shanxi not only due to the large reserves of coal but also due to ‘Datong Nine Dragon Screen Wall’ that was built over 600 years ago by the emperors of Ming Dynasty.
This is the biggest and oldest glazed screen amongst the nine dragon wall screens located in China. This is the only screen that was built outside Beijing, the capital of China.
The screen was constructed in the year 1392 by Zhu Yuanzhang, who was the first Ming Dynasty emperor, during his 25 years of reign for his 13th son Zhu Gui. Thus this is the oldest of all the screens present in China. Zhu Yuanzhang had a temporary palace in Datong. He used to go there for short period in order to oversee his fortifications of the northern border and also erase the remainders of the Yuan Dynasty.
Zhu Yuanzhang fathered 26 sons. However, some of them died before reaching the adult age and some died while fighting different battles. The remaining sons were bestowed small estates and had complete control of them. The emperor looked upon Zhu Gui to be the most worthy to handle the important task of defending the empire by administering the defenses on the Great Wall against the northern Mongol invaders. For this reason Datong was loaded with heavy garrison.
In the next two hundred years Datong saw the turn of fate and many Mongol attacks led to its downfall. After the downfall of Ming Dynasty the city was burnt and razed to the ground in 1652 in which the Royal Palace was also destroyed. However, today you can see only a few remnants in the form of the Datong Nine Dragon Screen Wall, some steles and some palace remains that were excavated.
Made from 426 fire glazed bricks, this screen is 8 meters high, 45.5 meters long and 2 meters thick. The screen is comprised of three parts, which are the pedestal, the main body and the roof.
- Containing 75 tiles the pedestal’s height is 2.09 meters and has images of animals like oxen, dogs, rabbits etc are carved on it. These carved images are present right at the center of the pedestal.
- The main body consists of nine dragons that are carved across it. They have golden scales and shiny eyes. Eight other dragons each of which convey a meaning surrounds a central dragon. On both side of the chief dragon are yellow colored dragons. Their heads point towards eastern side and tails point towards the central dragon. Next there is a pair of deep yellow dragons who have there tails and heads pointed towards west. The third pair of dragons is purple in color and they appear to be fighting and tugging with the sea. The fourth pair comprises of elegant yellow colored dragons.
These dragons exemplify their abilities to control the winds and rains. Rest of the area surrounding the dragons is filled with several carved images like those of plants, water, grass etc. The lower part of the main body of the dragon screen has a green colored wave, while the upper part has blue and yellow colored clouds.
- The roof is again made of glazed tiles.