The area is named after Mt. Xiling, a peak at the eastern end of the gorge, and has been so named since at least the Three Kingdoms Period when it was recorded in the geographical treatise Shui Jing Zhu.
Xiling, which forms nearly half the length of the entire Three Gorges region, is actually a series of four different gorges: Precious Sword; Horse Lung & Ox Liver; Soundless Bell; and Shadow Play Gorges.
The Three Gorges Dam was constructed at Sāndòupíng in the middle of the Xiling Gorge. Before the construction of the Three Gorges Dam and Gezhouba Dam, Xiling was known for being the most dangerous of the three gorges to travel through, with frightening whirlpools and strong rapids.
Since the construction of the dams, the river's depth has increased from 3 metres (9.8 ft) in some areas below the dam, to well over 100 metres (330 ft) throughout the reservoir's length.