Jiuquan has played an important role in the Chinese history relating to its expansion westwards. It was officially a military colony for large parts of its existence and, unofficially, a melting pot for the various cultures that intersected in the region.
The prefecture gets its name - 'Wine Spring' - from the tale of General Huo Qubing who received a present of excellent wine from the Emperor for defeating the Xiongnu barbarians. This general poured the wine into the local spring so that it could be shared by all his officers and men in recognition of their hard effort.
The prefecture actually covers the eastern end of Gansu Province with only the exception of Jiayuguan Prefecture and Sunan Yugur Autonomous County of Zhangye Prefecture. This therefore, surprisingly, includes Dunhuang.
Jiuquan has a railway station of its own but most visitors will arrive from Jiayuguan as that is just 30 minutes away by road.
There are few sites of great interest in Jiuquan but the city has a pleasant atmosphere and makes for a worthwhile excursion from Jiayuguan which has seen rather too much development.
The Wine Spring Gardens are the main attraction. You will be able to spend a couple of hours wandering the extensive grounds here, though the zoo is probably best ignored. The plentiful vegetation helps keep the area cool - a welcome relief in summer.
The Silk Road Museum has some fine collections, especially the Jade items, and an underground gallery which is actually the site of a King's tomb.
The rest of the city can be enjoyed for what it is - a typical small city in rural China. You may well enjoy a bit of shopping - for fruits or perhaps some more reasonably priced souvenirs.
Excursions further afield can take you to:
Underground Tombs: of the Eastern Jin Dynasty. The surrounding area apparently contains hundreds though only a few are open to visitors. Descend by a modern tunnel/staircase to find a cavern supported by painted bricks. You may have seen some of these on display in Lanzhou's museum but can really only appreciate their naive beauty in situ.
The following can be visited from Jiuquan in a day but are best enjoyed as overnight stays, or longer:
Jiuquan has a Space Centre but, for now, this is off-limits to foreigners.
Also off-limits is the Wenshushan Monastery mentioned in some guidebooks.
The following China Journey includes a visit to Jiuquan: