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What is the Great Wall of China?

The Great Wall of China is a monumental feat of ancient engineering, stretching over 13,000 miles. Built to protect and unify territories, it stands as a testament to human resilience and ingenuity. Its history is as long and winding as its structure. Want to uncover the secrets hidden within its stones? Join us as we explore its timeless legacy.
Diana Bocco
Diana Bocco

The Great Wall of China is one of the most famous historical megastructures and the world's longest structure created by man, even bigger than the pyramids and other colossal constructions. Despite a popular claim to the contrary, it is not visible from the Moon, although it is barely visible from near earth orbit.

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Great Wall of China is a protected space that has gained even more fame over the past decade because of international efforts to preserve sections that are falling into disrepair. Vandalism is one of the reasons the wall has suffered enormously over the past two decades. Local sellers often pick it apart to sell the parts to tourists.

A map of China.
A map of China.

The Great Wall of China was started inn the 5th century BC by the Qin Dynasty to protect the kingdom from attacks by the Xiongnu people. However, by the time construction started, there were already numerous towers and fortifications already standing. The construction of the wall was meant to join the different forts into one long structure and it took centuries to complete. Started, stopped, demolished, and rebuilt along the way, the Great Wall of China as it stands today was finished in the 16th century.

Construction of the Great Wall of China began around 5th century B.C. and stopped around the 16th century.
Construction of the Great Wall of China began around 5th century B.C. and stopped around the 16th century.

The structure is 4,000 miles (6,400 km) long and up to 26 feet (8 meters) in height. It has many watchtowers and towers along its length. The most popular sections with tourists are the ones near Beijing, especially Juyongguan pass and the Mutianyu Great Wall. The Shanhaiguan Great Wall, built as a bridge, is another popular stop for tourists walking along the wall. Most of it is constructed of bricks, although early parts are made of stones, earth, and tiles. To modern visitors, it looks remarkably similar along its length, but this is mostly due to the effect of wind erosion on the surface of the wall.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Great Wall of China?

The Great Wall of China is a series of fortifications made of stone, brick, tamped earth, wood, and other materials, generally built along an east-to-west line across the historical northern borders of China to protect the Chinese states and empires against the raids and invasions of the various nomadic groups of the Eurasian Steppe. It is the longest wall in the world and an enduring symbol of Chinese strength and resilience.

How long is the Great Wall of China?

The Great Wall of China is approximately 21,196 kilometers (13,171 miles) long, according to a 2012 archaeological survey conducted by China's State Administration of Cultural Heritage and the National Bureau of Surveying and Mapping. This length includes all the walls, trenches, and natural defensive barriers like hills and rivers.

When was the Great Wall of China built?

Construction of the Great Wall began in the 7th century BC, with various walls being built by different states. The most well-known sections were built by the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644 AD). Over the centuries, the Wall was expanded and reinforced by various dynasties to defend against invasions.

Why was the Great Wall of China built?

The primary purpose of the Great Wall of China was to protect Chinese states and empires from the invasions and raids of the various nomadic groups from the north. It also served to control immigration and emigration, and was instrumental in imposing duties on goods transported along the Silk Road, thus becoming a key factor in trade and regulation.

Can you see the Great Wall of China from space?

Despite popular belief, the Great Wall of China is not visible from the moon with the naked eye. Astronauts have reported that it is barely visible, and only under certain conditions, from low Earth orbit. The notion that it can be seen from the moon is a myth.

What are some interesting facts about the Great Wall of China?

The Great Wall of China has a rich history with many interesting facts. For instance, it is not a continuous line but a collection of walls and fortifications. Some parts of the Wall are known for their architectural grandeur, while others are simple but equally effective barriers. It is also home to a diverse range of flora and fauna, some of which are endemic to the region.

How is the Great Wall of China being preserved?

Preservation efforts for the Great Wall of China are ongoing and multifaceted. The Chinese government has enacted laws to protect the Wall, and UNESCO listed it as a World Heritage site in 1987. Restoration projects are frequently undertaken, although some sections remain in disrepair due to their remote location and the vastness of the Wall. International collaboration and sustainable tourism practices are also part of the preservation strategy.

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Discussion Comments

anon37171

The Great Wall of China was built as a barrier to "barbarians". It never was able to protect central China from invasions. The Huns, the Mongles and the Manchurians all found their ways to break into the Walls. Nonetheless, Great Wall became the symbol of China and national spirit which can be best represented by the Chinese National Anthem "March of the Volunteers", a song originated at the beginning of Japanese invasion into China in 1937. Here is what it sings:

Arise! All who refuse to be slaves!

Let our flesh and blood build our new Great Wall!

As the Chinese nation faces its greatest peril,

All forcefully expend their last cries.

Arise! Arise! Arise!

Millions with one determination and hearts as one,

Brave the enemy's fire, March on!

Brave the enemy's fire, March on!

March on! March on! On!

Millions were inspired by this song to march onto the battle fields to defend China to their last breaths.

It was said a lot of songs were submitted for National Anthem. Only "The March of the Volunteers" has the honor.

Where the physical Great Wall failed, people who refused to be conquered built another new Great Wall with determination, blood and flesh to fight the invaders to the end. They won.

anon29269

This is a short article well written about a great architecture. The section close to Beijing is for tourists' attraction, quite crowded on any given day now days.

When I visited exactly the same section 40 years ago on a winter day in 1969, not a single soul in sight. It wasn't a visitors' attraction at all back then. The only thing I heard was the whipping sound of wind. Within the Wall, I could see human habitats. Outside the Wall, nothing but wind, sand and wilderness. Of course there were no more Xiongnu (the Huns) or the Mongols threatening invasion into Central China anymore. However this piece of history endured time, violence, sand and wind. I was really awed by the scene. The reason our ancestors built this Wall really hit me at that time. The Great Wall humbled me.

If you walk the Great Wall section close to Beijing and climb all the way to the highest point, you'll be awarded by a magnificent view. "If you never have reached the Great Wall, you are not a true man". Right there, you'll get your True Man's "certificate".

I visited it Great Wall again in 1994. It was a totally different experience than my first visit, which I treasure more than anything.

somerset

I had the good fortune of visiting the Great Wall near Beijing in early spring. I walked that portion of the wall open to visitors. The walk is rather strenuous, since for the most part the wall is steep with many uneven stairs. Of course you do not have to go all the way to the end, since you have to turn around and go back the same way you came. The view from the wall is absolutely spectacular. It was an awe inspiring, and a memorable experience.

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    • A map of China.
      By: pavalena
      A map of China.
    • Construction of the Great Wall of China began around 5th century B.C. and stopped around the 16th century.
      By: jjuncadella
      Construction of the Great Wall of China began around 5th century B.C. and stopped around the 16th century.