HomeLifestyleTravelPlaces To Visit

The story behind the Great Wall of China

The story behind the Great Wall of China

Draped across China’s mountainous terrain, the wall created long ago to keep barbarians out now draws travellers in. This is the story of the Great Wall

China’s Great Wall is the most extensive and, in parts, remote defensive wall ever built by any people in history.

Stretching right across northern China, it is actually a series of walls that have been built, linked, rebuilt and extended over a period of more than 2,000 years. As a result, the wall’s length is almost impossible to calculate.

"The wall’s length is almost impossible to calculate"

Estimates, though, range from 1,500 miles-3,100 miles for the wall built during the Ming dynasty (1368–1644), which runs from Shanhaiguan, on the shores of the East China Sea, to Jiayuguan, near the edge of the Taklamakan Desert. It's so big that people claim that it can be seen from space, though this may not be true.

In some areas, two or three walls overlap each other, where in others there are gaps. Long defensive spurs spread out from the main route, and many sections lie separate and disconnected.

The history of the Wall

The Great Wall of ChinaThe style of the Great Wall of China varies as it stretches across China. Credit: Hung_Chung_Chih

Before the mid-to-late Ming period, the majority of the walls were made of rammed earth and remained that way for some time. Eventually, the Ming rulers decided to fortify the Wall.

"The parts of the Great Wall that we think of were built between 1522 and 1620"

The parts of the Great Wall that we think of were built between 1522 and 1620. Averaging 26 feet high and 20 feet thick, they are made from rubble and earth clad with stone. Watchtowers rise above the structure at strategic intervals. The style varies according to the terrain, the general in charge of construction, materials and the perceived level of threat.

Most of the wall is wide enough for three or four horses to ride side-by-side, but at high points the wall narrows to a single strand of brick.

Was the Wall successful?

Terracota soldiers on the Great Wall of ChinaThe Wall is lined with many terracota soliders like these. Credit: nehccire

The Wall did not always succeed in keeping out nomads who found their way through points of the wall that had not been maintained, bribed guards or outflanked garrisons.

In 1549, The Mongols gave advance warning of an attack on Beijing and, true enough, they successfully advanced on the city’s gates the following year, causing a sense of panic. As a result, wall-building intensified.

"The Wall's construction cost three-quarters of the Ming annual budget and contributed to the dynasty’s collapse in 1644"

The Wall's construction cost three-quarters of the Ming annual budget and contributed to the dynasty’s collapse in 1644. Today much of the wall is dilapidated as it sprawls across China, but continues to attract visitors from across the world.

Banner credit: Great Wall of China (zetter)

Read More: Wonders of China

 

This post contains affiliate links, so we may earn a small commission when you make a purchase through links on our site at no additional cost to you. Read our disclaimer

Loading up next...