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Great Wall of China

09 Feb, 2009

Great Wall of China

The Great Wall of China is one of the most famous monuments ever built, not to mention that it is also the longest and one of the most fascinating in the history of architecture. In Chinese, the Great Wall is called the Changcheng, which literally translates to “a long fortress.” The Great Wall, despite its collective reference, is not just a single wall but is a series of stone fortresses that has been built and extended since the 5th century BC until the 16th century BC. Aside from its grandeur and its impressive length, the Great Wall is also even more popular due to the millions of Chinese men who died during its construction, which went on for centuries. Aside from being a striking piece of China’s heritage, the Wall also made up a significant part of the country’s history. Its construction followed the different eras that the Chinese empire underwent throughout history, and spanned various dynasties. The wall was also witness to countless battles, raids, and several other significant events in the history of the great Chinese empire. Aside from that, the Great Wall remains a significant symbol of the Chinese culture, tourism, and national identity. In 1987, the Great Wall of China was named as a UNESCO World Heritage site. On top of that, the Wall also sparked recent controversy in the scientific world when it was glimpsed from outer space via satellite. Recently, there have been accounts that state that the Great Wall is visible from the moon, but so far, no lunar astronaut has proven this claim. This, however, hardly affects the significant role that the Great Wall of China plays not only in China but also in the international sphere.

Great Wall of China

Geography

The Great Wall of China is located in the northern part of China, and can be accessed from Beijing. The Great Wall stretches up to around 6,400 kilometers or 4,000 miles. It runs from Shanhaiguan, which is towards the eastern part, all the way to Lop Nur, which is towards the western part. However, the Great Wall extends over an arc in the Inner Mongolia border, but still goes farther on. Thus, in total, the entirety of the Great Wall can be measured at around 6,700 kilometers or 4,160 miles. Remarkably, the wall runs over plains and mountainous regions like a great dragon, and this is also one of the many fascinating things about its construction.

History

The initial construction of the Great Wall of China began in the 5th century BC, though construction, particularly the Spring, Autumn, and Warring States periods, and further additions and modifications continued on until the 16th century. The Great Wall was initially constructed as a protective fortress that surrounded the Chinese empire from outside attacks. One of the most popular walls that is part of the Great Wall is one built by old Chinese emperor Qin Shi Huang and was constructed during the Ming Dynasty, a period in China’s history where the great Asian country was battling with the Machurians and the Mongolians. The Ming wall was made extra stronger, and its construction employed the use of bricks and stone instead of rammed earth. And since the battle against the Mongols went on for quite some time, the Ming dynasty continuously reinforced the protection the wall offered by repairing, rebuilding, and enhancing the wall. The Ming wall is now barely standing and is merely a shadow of its former glory when it first stood in the 220 to 206 BC after its construction. Back in those days, the Wall required the guarding of more than a million men.
The early beginnings of the Great Wall started when the Chinese constructed fortifications that were meant to protect them from small weapons such as spears and swords. They used mainly earth and gravel to form the walls, and adhered only to simple construction principles. As the eighth century rolled along, however, the Chinese method of construction began to become more sophisticated. At first, the walls protected the various states individually, but when Emperor Qin Shi Huang became emperor, he called for the destruction of all the individual state walls so he could impose just one rule over all the states. Then he ordered the construction of a new wall that will protect his entire empire from external attacks, mostly from the Xiongnu people who, during that time, lived in the north.

Several challenges were faced in the construction of the Great Wall. In fact, from the time when the materials had to be brought in, the transport itself already proved to be a challenge. In the plains, the walls were made with rammed earth and gravel, while stones were used to build the walls that ran over mountain ranges.

Great Wall of China

Tourism

The Great Wall of China has been named as one of the greatest manmade wonders of the world. Even as time and age has ravaged most parts of the wall, the basic structure of the great fortress still stands. Despite major erosion in some parts of the walls after centuries of standing as a protective barrier around China, certain sections of the Great Wall of China still remains standing and are now one of the most renowned tourist destinations in Asia. The survival of certain parts of the wall can also be attributed to the repairs and rebuilding projects that were done over the years, particularly in the Han, Sui, and Jin dynasties.

Some of the most notable areas of the Great Wall of China which are, today, used as tourist attractions include the North Pass, the West Pass, the Shanhaiguan Pass, the Mutianyu Great Wall, the Liao Tian Ling parts of the wall, and the steepest portion of the wall particularly in the Wanghinglou watchtower.

The North Pass is also known as the Juyongguan Pass or the Badaling. This section of the wall is said to be the strongest section as it mainly stood guard around China’s capital city, Beijing. In its heyday, the North Pass was protected by countless guards. The North Pass walls were made using stones and bricks. The entire portion of the North Pass totals to 7.8 meters high and 5 meters wide. The West Pass, on the other hand, is also called the Jiayuguan pass. This particular portion of the Great Wall already veers towards the western edges of the great fortress. On the opposite side over towards the eastern edges of the wall stands the Pass of Shanhaiguan. This portion of the wall is considered as the Museum of the Construction of the Great Wall. It houses the Meng Jiang-Nu Temple, which was built in the Song dynasty. However, near the Shanhaiguan pass lies yet another pass, considered as the first pass of the wall, which has been dubbed as the Number One Pass Under Heaven. This is the area where the Great Wall first climbed up a mountainous area. Near the area tourists will also find the Jiumenkou. The Jiumenkou was the only part of the wall constructed as a bridge.

The southeast Mutianyu Great Wall is also a notable region of the wall. In this area, the wall expertly maneuvers through a craggy mountainous region going from southeast to northwest at 2.25 kilometers. The Mutianyu Great Wall is connected to the Juyongguan Pass at its western side and the Gubeikou at its eastern side. Aside from the Mutianyu part, the Liao Tian Ling part,or a specific portion around 25 kilometers west of it, also stands out. The walls in this part are only around two to three stories high, which makes them different from the rest of the walls, which are noticeably higher. However, as if to make up for the lack in height, the walls are said to appear as if they are silver, although the silvery hue of the wall is no longer as visible today as it had been in the past. Archaeologists explained that the stones used in the construction of this part of the wall were taken from Shan Xi, a place where there used to be a lot of mines. Thus, the stones contained high metals, which give off a silver sheen.

However, despite the large number of notable parts of the Great Wall, if there is one particular portion that should be emphasized, it should be the wall’s steepest climb, which is found in the Ming Great Wall. The walls go from 16 to 26 feet high. The Wangjinglou watchtower, which rises 980 meters or 3,215 feet above the sea level, can be found here.

The Simatai portion of the wall is also a significant portion up until the present time. In fact, several tourists and guides consider this as the best part of the wall that tourists who want to see the Great Wall should definitely visit. This is because this part of the wall has so far retained much of its original state. To fully appreciate and to more easily imagine the full grandeur of the original Great Wall, a trip to the Simatai area is definitely a must. This area lies 110 kilometers to the northeast of Beijing. However, since it is being maintained in its original and natural state as much as possible, Simatai has not been developed and transportation may be a challenge, so a bit of an adventure trip is necessary to get there. This, however, is an even more enticing offer for the adventurous tourists.

The Great Wall, however, is true to its name: it is indeed great and long. Thus, no tourist can possibly take a trip to all the different parts of the Great Wall. As a tourist, you should take a trip to at least a particular portion of the Great Wall. Every tourist who ventures to China should include a trip to the Great Wall in their itinerary. For in-depth tours of the tourist attraction, check out some of the more elaborate tours offered. Tours take tourists through the Wall in a walking tour. These tours are great for adventurers since they often require climbs and because some parts of the Great Wall are already damaged and may be a bit scary. Tours are lined with rest stops throughout and during the regular stops, tourists can simply gaze out at the scenery and marvel at the wonderful view around the Wall.

Despite the several parts of the Great Wall that are already in disrepair, tourists nonetheless flock there every year. The main attraction of being there is that the Great Wall can take you back to significant periods in history, which is a great experience especially for those who thrive in unearthing historical marvels. The Great Wall of China is a physical and solid symbol of the kingdoms and the battles of the past, which unfailingly piques the imagination and fascination of the modern tourist.

But aside from the trek through history, the Great Wall of China is also celebrated for its wonderful views of the mountains and landscape around it. Being able to stand on what once was a formidable fortress and look out over the plains, valleys, and mountains that surround the Great Wall will indeed be an unforgettable experience for anybody. The mere opportunity to visit the much-celebrated monument is in itself a huge privilege. To date, the Great Wall of China remains as one of the best and the most remarkable manmade wonders at par with the likes of pyramids, hanging gardens, and extravagant temples. This long and winding Wall should definitely be part of any traveler’s itinerary.

Great Wall of China

Culture

The Great Wall of China is a significant part of Chinese culture. The Great Wall has made its way into the center of Chinese symbolism as well as in Chinese mythology. It has also become the setting of various stories and beautiful legends. Some of the stories also zoomed in on the stories behind the deaths of the men who died during the construction of the Wall. The story of the Great Wall has also been incorporated into Chinese folk songs and traditional operas. The much-celebrated tourist attraction has created an entire cultural stage all its own, and for this, China is bent on protecting the remaining sections of the Great Wall.

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