Situated at the west of China's Hubei Province, Yichang is where the middle and upper reaches of the Yangtze River are divided. The construction of the Gezhou Dam helped Yichang to grow from a small town of 30,000 into a city. Thanks to its advantageous geographic location, Yichang has been defined as a distributing center, an important trading port and a transportation hub along the Yangtze river linking west Hubei and east Sichuan since ancient times. For a very long time, it has been renown as "Gateway to the Three Gorges", and "Throat between Sichuan and Hubei". Today, Yichang remains a brisk river port of China, controlling the access to Chongqing City to its southwest.
The streets of the old town centre are lined with trees. Though the city wall was puIled down in 1929, the street names still indicate where it once stood (Eastern Ring Road, Southern Ring Road and so on). The main market is found just off Jiefang Lu. Along the waterfront a few old foreign buildings of the treaty port days can be seen.
Apart from the Gezhou Dam, tourists may also visit the Three Travellers' Cave, ten kilometres (six miles) northwest of the city. In 819, three Tang-dynasty poets, Bai Zhuyi, his brother Bai Xingiian and Yuan Zhen, met up in Yichang and made an excursion to this site. While enjoying the spectacular scenery, they inscribed some poems on the cave walls. Afterwards they were dubbed the "First Three Travellers". In the Song dynasty (960--1279) the famous literary family of Su--the father and two sons--on their way to the capital to take the imperial examinations, visited the cave and added poems as well. All three passed the imperial examinations at the same time. People call these gentlemen the "Second Three Travellers". Throughout the ages, other visiting Iiterati and officials have left their contributions on the cave walls.
A small spring trickles through the rock near the entrance, local superstition maintains that if women wash their hands in its pure water it will improve their culinary skills. The hill above the cave presents a fine view of the entrance to Xiling Gorge: The Zixi Pavilion contains a memorial stone to the 11th-century philosopher Ouyang Xiu, who lived in Yichang for three years. Near-by is a drum platform said to be the site where Zhang Fei (see page 42), a general of the third--century Kingdom of Shu, beat his battle drums.
Visitors are usuaIIy taken on a Short excursion along a mountain road offering stunning views of Xiling Gorge, and passing several peaks, including Filial Mountain and Camel Mountain. The road continues over a natural stone bridge, Whidi was originlly--so legend has it--a fairy's silken sash, thrown up to help her mortal husband ascend to heaven with her. The stone gateway and its steep stone steps delineate the ancient land route crossed by travellers to western Hubei and Sichuan.