What You Need to Know About The Great Wall of China

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Photograph of the Great Wall of China at Sunset
Great Wall of China at Sunset

Undoubtedly one of the greatest wonders of the world, The Great Wall of China is a world famous structure that winds like a dragon’s tail approximately 5,500 miles across the heart of China. It passes through a stunningly diverse range of scenery, meandering from East to West through rugged mountains, lush grasslands and desert corridors, before eventually terminating in the city of Dandong near the North Korean border. The Great Wall attracts over 10 million visitors each year, and comes entwined with a wealth of undiscovered history and tradition, much of which we will never know. If you’re considering visiting the wall or are just curious about its rich heritage, here are a few things that may interest you.

It’s over 2,000 years old

The origins of The Great Wall date back as early at the 7th Century BC, where small individual walls began to be constructed across China as individual states endeavoured to mark their territory. These individual walls were made of varying materials including earth, stone and wood, before eventually being joined together to create what we now know as The Great Wall. Many of the original structures still survive today; walk just a short stretch of the wall, and you’ll quickly discover just how varied in composition it really is.

It was originally constructed as a defence against warring states

It is thought that The Great Wall began during the Warring States Period of Ancient China, where states began to build walls as a defence against enemies invading from the North. Individual walls were constructed in the ancient states of Chu, Zhao, Qi, Yan, Wei and Qin, but when the state of Qin eventually unified China in 221BC under the Qin Dynasty, the Emperor ordered for the wall to be connected as a representation of this unity. The wall was then extended further as a defence against potential invaders, and thus, The Great Wall was formed.

It was built by convicts and thieves

When Emperor Qin demanded that The Great Wall be created, there was little doubt that he would need an extensive workforce to get the job done. But who in their right mind would put themselves forward for such a colossal task? As volunteers were found to be few and far between, Qin used the tools he had at his disposal: convicts, prisoners of war, soldiers, and forcibly recruited peasants. It is thought many escaped and fled into the Northern territories of China, and many died on the job thanks to the oppressive working conditions and lack of food.

It’s partly underwater

Believe it or not, there is a section of The Great Wall that is submerged in water. In 1981, the Chinese Government flooded an area where The Great Wall stands in Tian Jin, in an attempt to combat water shortages in the area. There is now a section that is plunged up to 35 metres deep in water which, for those who are that way inclined, can be accessed by scuba diving!

Conversely, the highest point of The Great Wall is at Heita Mountain, Beijing, where it clambers up to a staggering 5,033 feet above sea level.

It’s shrinking every day

Due to both environmental and human factors, The Great Wall is shrinking on a daily basis. Whilst natural erosion is gradually wearing away the bricks and mud that form the wall, the majority of the damage is caused by humans vandalising and even stealing parts of the wall. There are large areas of the wall that have become almost unrecognisable, particularly those located in North-western sections such as Ningxia and Gansu. Stealing isn’t clever at the best of times; particularly when you are stealing from the largest historical monument in the world!

Visiting the Great Wall

Very few people walk the entirety of the Wall, largely due to the sheer difficulty that such a challenge provides. Many of the visitors to the Wall access it directly from the main tourist hubs, usually by a coach trip or group excursion. For the more adventurous traveller, it is common to use a car to cherry-pick the greatest features along the Wall, from areas such as Honcibao and Qidun to Motianling and Huashijian. There are also helicopter excursions over the wall, but they certainly don’t come cheap. Our personal highlights include the watchtowers of Jinpai and Xusi, the wooden city gate at Deshengbao, and the huge fort at Yanmenguan Pass, the site of many battles during the Ming Dynasty. The Great Wall is as diverse as it is magnificent – enjoy your trip!

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I'm an editor and author for a number of online blogs and magazines. I live just outside of London in the UK with my partner and two cats.

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