Archeological records indicate that the first humans began to settle around the ancient city of Lanzhou about 5,000 years ago. It was established as a prefecture during the Western Han Dynasty, and named Jincheng, or "strong fort". The city received its existing name during the early years of the Sui Dynasty, and in 1666, during the reign of Qing Dynasty Emperor Kangxi, it was made capital of Gansu Province.

Its favorable geographical location ensured Lanzhou rose to prominence as a commercial hub for central China during the Han Dynasty. With the flourishing of the Silk Road during the Tang and Song Dynasties, the city assumed a more important role than ever.

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