Putting The Wall Into Context
If you've read my blog about the myths and legends you already know The Great Wall wasn't built by a single ruler, all of it wasn’t built at the same time, and that it is not continuous.
Still, the wall considered by historians and scholars as one of the greatest feats of human engineering. It’s one thing to look at it on a map or in short segments but, as you see in the photograph below, it is built on the top ridges of some pretty high mountains. Today this would be a difficult and expensive project, even with the sophisticated equipment existing now.
In 2007, China sent survey teams out to the 15 Chinese provinces for the purpose of measuring every trace of the wall they could find and came up with 13,173 miles, taking into account all the walls that were ever built, whether standing or not.
The Great Wall of China is now designated as one of the "New Seven Manmade Wonders of the World" and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site visited by millions of tourists every year.
Zhou Dynasty (1045-256 BC)
Construction began around the 7th century BC by feudal warlords of the Zhou Dynasty, along the borders of states because they constantly warred against each other. The fortifications were built to withstand attacks by soldiers with small arms such as swords and spears.
They were constructed by stamping earth and gravel between board frames (rammed earth construction). The importance of this building method is that it doesn’t hold up to centuries of weather and wear. The original walls are essentially all gone, but although it sounds like flimsy construction, this method was surprisingly sturdy and fragments still exist today in spite of thousands of years of erosion.
Eventually, the state of Qin proved strongest and established the Qin Dynasty unifying the independent states under Emperor Qin Shi Huang. The walls in the northern part of China built by the states of Qin, Zhao, and Yan were joined into a single wall 3,100 miles long. This served as a line of defense against Mongol harassment from the north. Unfortunately, not much is left of this original construction.
Emperor Qin Shi Huang
During this dynasty, one of China's Golden Ages, China was consolidated. The northern fortifications were strengthened and lengthened. Sections of wall, for 5,000 miles, ran parallel to and interlinked with the Inner Mongolian border (including branching walls, natural barriers, and trenches). Just a little less than from Los Angeles, CA, USA, to London, England.
Medieval Dynasties (220 AD – 1385 AD)
Although construction and maintenance of the Great Wall continued through the feudal (220-960 AD) and Song (960-1279 AD) dynasties, the Jin (115-1234 AD) from the north and northwest got through the wall and controlled China until the Mongol Empire invaded the Jin and founded the Yuan Dynasty. (1271-1385 AD). I don't know the reason for the overlapping dates of the dynasties, but I'm sure there's a long explanation somewhere. T.M.I. Founder of Ming Dynasty Zhu Yuanzhaug
Under the Ming Dynasty, which lasted for nine generations, renewed interest in the Great Wall resulted from several long battles with Manchurian and Mongolian tribes.
To keep them out, the Ming constructed walls along the northern border of China. But unlike the earlier walls, this construction proved stronger and more elaborate because they used bricks and stone instead of rammed earth. They built 25,000 watch towers and repaired the older parts of the wall. The map below compares the segments of the wall built before and during the Ming Dynasty.
Qing Dynasty (1644-1911 AD)
In 1644, the Manshus crossed the wall, seized Beijing and established the Qing Dynasty, which ended Han control in China. Under Qing rule, because China's borders extended beyond the walls and Mongolia became part of the empire, construction and repairs on the Great Wall were discontinued.
Peoples Republic of China
While archeologists have been interested in the Great Wall for a long time, it wasn't until the People's Republic began restoration that any major work was done on the wall. The Badaling section, near Beijing, was opened to the public as a tourist attraction in 1955. Since then there has been more restoration of the Ming portions of the wall.
I visited the Badaling portion of the wall in 2001. The stone steps of the wall were uneven in height, although all of them seemed high, and the tread was narrower than my foot. Unless you were close to the side, which wasn't always possible with all the tourists, there was nothing to hold on to. I made it to the first tower, which was not very far. Only the young and healthy attempted to make it to the second tower.
To the right is a photo of me and my friend Sandy Rodgers who traveled to China with me. The first tower is above our heads at top for first hill
Put The Great Wall On Your Bucket List
If you ever get a chance to go to China and visit the great wall, don't let the opportunity pass you by.