Who hasn’t heard or read about the Great Wall of China in all their years of being alive? If you are one, we have to tell you to review geography and culture once more – no offense intended.
After all, it isn’t only one of the 7 Wonders of the World but also a great destination for tourists and locals who want to spend some time doing something different and traveling through history.
However, despite how people this location is, many are against the idea of giving it a try due to the current issues with China and how politics have influenced their opinion about it.
But if you want a piece of advice: enjoy what it has to offer and then continue with your usual thoughts and life.
China, overall, is a place you shouldn’t miss, but if we are focusing on the Great Wall only, well, you won’t regret investing your time in it.
Are you interested and just trying to make a decision? Then, this is what you need to know before going for the trip and to complement your journey through this magnificent place.
A Great History Behind: Know About the Great Wall
The first time we got to know about the Great Wall of China and its history, we watched Natgeo and then reinforced our knowledge with what we were learning in high school and some research.
It may feel like it was not too long ago, but we assure you it’s been a while since we went over its history but nonetheless, it won’t stop impressing us.
For a short introduction before we jump into the details, the Great Wall of China is series of ancient walls and fortifications that spans more than 13,000 miles and is located in northern China.
The Great Wall is perhaps the most iconic symbol of the country due to its rich and varied history.
Emperor Qin Shi Huang first created it during the third century B.C. to prevent incursions by barbarian nomads.
Although the Great Wall of China’s construction can be traced back to the fifth century B.C., many of the wall’s fortifications date back hundreds of years, when China was divided into several kingdoms during the Warring States Period.
Qin Shi Huang was the first emperor of a unified China in the Qin Dynasty. He ordered the removal of earlier fortifications and the joining of several walls along the northern frontier into one system.
This would cover more than 10,000 Li (a li is an approximately one-third mile) and protect China from attacks coming from the north.
The construction of the “Wan Li Chang Cheng,” also known as the 10,000-Li-Long Wall, was one of any civilization’s most challenging building projects.
Meng Tian, a famous Chinese general, was the first to direct the project, and he used a large army of soldiers, convicts, and commoners as workers.
The wall was mostly made of stone and earth, and it extended from the China Sea port of Shanhaiguan, over 3,000 miles west to Gansu province. For maximum security, portions of the wall were overlapping in certain strategic areas (including the Badaling stretch that the Ming Dynasty later restored).
The Great Wall rose to a height of approximately 15-30 feet from a base of between 15-50 feet and 50 feet.
It was topped with ramparts 12-12 feet high; guard towers were scattered at various points along with it.
But what happened with the Great Wall once the dynasty came to an end?
Many sections of the Great Wall were destroyed after Qin Shi Huang’s death. The fall of the Qin Dynasty and a series of frontier tribes took control of the northern border of China and the entire region after the fall of the later Han Dynasty.
Among these tribes, the Northern Wei Dynasty was the most powerful, extending and repairing the wall to protect against attacks by other tribes.
The Bei Qi kingdom (550-577) constructed or repaired more than 900 miles of the wall. The short-lived, but highly effective Sui Dynasty (581-618), repaired and extended the Great Wall of China several times.
The fall of the Sui and the rise and rule of the Tang Dynasty saw the Great Wall lose its significance as a fortification since China had defeated the Tujue tribe in the north and expanded beyond the boundaries of the wall.
As you can see, many dynasties, emperors, leaders, and people are involved in the continuous construction and repairs of the wall, which takes us through a journey B.C. and A.C.
Following this, the Song Dynasty saw the Chinese forced to retreat from threats from the Liao and Jin, who overtook large areas of both sides of the Great Wall.
The strong Yuan (Mongol) Dynasty (1206-1368), which Genghis Khan established, eventually ruled all of China, some parts of Asia, and sections of Europe.
The Great Wall was not a major military fortification for the Mongols, but soldiers were sent to guard merchants and caravans along the lucrative Silk Road trade routes.
Actual Construction: 1368-1644
Based on the history we have shared with you so far, you can tell the history of the Great Wall comes from centuries ago, as previously mentioned. Still, despite the participation and involvement of several tribes and people over the dynasties, the construction of the wall we know today isn’t attributed to those years.
Instead, the Great Wall of China you can visit today was mainly built and repaired during the mighty Ming Dynasty, which took place from 1368 to 1644.
The early Ming rulers didn’t want to build border fortifications and were little interested in the wall’s structure.
Thus, wall building was restricted before the 15th century when in 1421, the Ming emperor Yongle decided to proclaim Beijing as the new capital; things started to change.
The Ming rulers were strong in promoting Chinese culture. This period saw a lot of construction, including bridges, temples, and pagodas, and the emperor made sure to bring more exquisite and incredible buildings for the country.
One of the constructions ordered and that allowed us to enjoy the Great Wall in the present day began in 1474.
Following an initial phase in territorial expansion, the Ming rulers adopted a defensive stance, and for this, their reformation and extension to the Great Wall were key.
The Ming wall ran from the Yalu River, Liaoning Province, to the eastern bank of the Taolai River in the Gansu Province. It then wound its way east through Liaoning and Tianjin, Beijing and Ningxia.
The Great Wall split westward from Juyong Pass into the south and north lines. These were subsequently named the Inner Walls and Outer Walls.
The wall was divided into strategic “passes,” i.e., fortresses and gates. The three closest to Beijing were the Three Inner Passes. Further west, Yanmen, Ningwu, and Piantou were the Three Outer Passes.
Each of the six passes was heavily garrisoned in the Ming period and was vital for the defense of the capital.
Where It Stands Today: The Ming Dynasty Fall & Present
Most people believe the beauty of the Great Wall remained for many years with the Ming Dynasty. However, everything comes to an end.
The Great Wall was breached by the Manchus of central and southern Manchuria in the middle of the 17th century.
They encroached upon Beijing and eventually forced the fall of the Ming Dynasty.
But what happened to the wall during this time? It was the most prominent symbol of China in the west between the 18th century and the 20th century since the upcoming reigns didn’t destroy the construction.
Since then, it has been both a physical representation of Chinese strength and a psychological representation of the barrier that the Chinese state maintains to repel foreign influences and control its citizens.
It is widely recognized today as one of the greatest architectural achievements in human history with the use of human hands only.
The Great Wall was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1987. A popular belief is that this construction is the only man-made structure visible from space.
Many wall sections have suffered from neglect over the centuries as roads have been made through it at various points.
Badaling, which is located 43 miles (70km) northwest of Beijing, is the most well-known section of the Great Wall of China. It was rebuilt in the late 1950s and attracted thousands of tourists from all over the world.
With so many changes, conditions, battles, and missing care, the actual government in the country have set some projects to restore some of the most damaged areas of the wall.
The most touristic ones have been well-preserved, and many people wish for the Great Wall to be maintained despite the costs this project would involve since its protection is of great importance for the entire nation, this includes the main body of the structure and all the miles it runs along with some animal species located inside the perimeter.
Fortunately, the project to take care of the Great Wall has been handled by the China government since 1957 to the point of UNESCO praising its effort to take care of the structure.
Visiting the Great Wall of China: A Lifetime Experience
Many will argue that there’s nothing to see in this wall since, essentially, it is a fortress that is quite simple in structure, but believes it or not, it has a lot to offer.
Keeping in mind the long history that makes several tourists and people excited to visit, you also have a massive space for hiking and taking all the photos you want.
Although it hasn’t been well taken care of in all the sections, China has maintained the wall active to ensure it continues to be its number one tourist site. Despite the restrictions from COVID-19, many visit during specific times of the day.
The natural scenery is a plus for a visit, and all the pictures you will find on the internet will tell you, “You need to come.”
In fact, it is part of our travel destination list just because of the beautiful sightseeing and how you can enjoy a natural time.
It is hard to tell you why you would decide to visit a place. However, many surveys have come with the usual main reasons you would expect:
- Because of the rich history.
- Learning more about Chinese culture, all the autonomous regions, and architecture.
- The breathtaking views.
- Feeling free while biking, hiking, or walking the walls.
If you have your doubts about adding it to your next destinations or aren’t sure if this will be your piece of adventure, we will leave you a few activities you can look forward to in this place:
- Give hiking a try, even if you don’t like it that much. You can hie on the Great Wall at night, and it will be the most exciting activity in your life.
- Camp in Jiankou, the wild section of the Great Wall.
- Have a picnic in Mutianyu, Simatai, and less crowded places on the wall.
- Participate in the Huangyaguan Great Wall marathon, usually held in May.
- Visit Gubeikou, a wild and unrestored section of the wall, for great views.
- Go to Juyongguan, one of the Great Wall forts.
We don’t know about you, but we love a real-life adventure that involves connecting with nature, and we are sure that disconnecting for a bit and enjoying the place will be your highlight, as simple as it sounds.
What we can tell you to convince you is: explore the outside world and take a look at the land area this place offers as one of the best places on the planet to enjoy.
Filming a Massive Movie: The Great Wall
We don’t want to disappoint, but there is no single movie filmed in this World Heritage place.
China has forbidden every type of interaction with the wall that is out of the usual activities prepared. Thus, it is impossible to receive permission to take some areas for filming.
However, there is the main film inspired by the Great Wall’s history that follows the same name.
Release on December 6, 2016, “The Great Wall” was completely shot in China, but three walls have to be built during the production due to the limitations to film in the actual place.
According to critics and fans, the film didn’t perform that well, but it did have a massive cast taking part.
Matt Damon, Tian Jing, Willem Dafoe, Andy Lau, Pedro Pascal, and Hanyu Zhang are only some of the best cast members we can mention.
Many stars from China took (as we would expect) part in the movie, but one of the reasons the film felt strange for the viewers lies in how the big-name actors took part in it.
Regardless, we believe it is worth watching if you want to spend some time and judge by yourself. We would have loved it if they shot in the actual Great Wall, though.
Top 5 Amazing Facts About the Great Wall of China
- The official and total length of the wall is 21,196.18 km, which is about 13,170.7 miles.
- The official name is The Great Wall, but it is also known as “The Long Wall” and “The 10,000-li Long Wall.”
- About 1/3 of the structure has disappeared over the years.
- Unlike popular beliefs, The Great Wall isn’t a continuous line since there are side, circular, and parallel walls and sections without them.
- The most popular section is Badaling, which has been visited by over 300 heads of state, foreign nationals, and VIPS from around the world.
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