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The Great Wall of China: 6 Extraordinary Facts

historical landmarks | June 21, 2018

APRIL 24, 2003: The Great Wall of China, much of which dates from the time of the Ming dynasty - the great wall of China, most of it dating of the Ming Dynasty (Photo by Apic/Getty Images)

The Great Wall of China, one of the Eight Wonders of the World, is an iconic symbol of the Chinese culture. This historical piece of architecture is one of the most ambitious construction projects ever taken by any civilization in history and is visited by billions of people each year. If you ever wondered why, how, and when the wall was built, along with other incredible facts, read on to expand your knowledge of this infamous piece of historical construction.

Why Was the Great Wall Built?

The Great Wall was initially built as a defense system against invaders from northern China. Construction began around the 7th and 8th century BC, because of wars between the Spring-Autumn Dynasty and the Warring States Dynasty. In fact, it wasn’t really a wall at all, but a conglomerate of watchtowers, beacon towers for communication, overlapping walls and trenches. Emperor Qin Shi Huang during his reign chose to unite the individual part into one main empire. It also included built-in soldier barracks to be used during times of military battles.

Emperor Qin Shi Huang of the Qin Dynasty united the individual sections of the country into one giant empire. He began construction on what is known today as The Great Wall, in order to join all the defenses together. In this way, the southern states would be ready for battle against the Mongolians from the North.

During the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644), six major defense constructions, the Three Inner Passes of Daoma, Zijing, and Juyong, and the Three Outer Passes of Pianguan, Ningwu, and Yanmen, provided a well-fortified defense for Beijing, the capital city of China.

How Old is the Great Wall?

The Great Wall most of us refer to today was built during the Ming Dynasty. The earliest recorded construction project, built by the Chu State, was over 2,700 years ago during the Spring and Autumn Period between 770 - 276 BC. The Qing Dynasty recorded the last construction project which took place in the late 1800’s.

Temple at The Great Wall

Who Built the Great Wall?

It would be great to say that the Great Wall was built by dedicated citizens of China but alas that is not the case. It was built by recruited workers, military soldiers, peasants and slaves through forced labor, criminal convicts, and prisoners of war. 

What is the Great Wall Constructed of?

The Great Wall is constructed of a combination of materials from the area, including stones, earth, and wood. The Spring and Autumn Seasons used these natural resources. When the Ming Dynasty was in charge of construction they began creating bricks which helped construction go much faster. A rice flour paste was used to bind the brick walls together. Without the benefit of today’s technology, all of these resources were carried to the building site on the backs of humans. As the years went by, simple machines like hand carts with wheels or other carts pulled by donkeys and horses, were used to carry these natural resources to the building sites.

How Long and Wide is the Great Wall?

The most well-known portion of the Great Wall is located in Badaling, about 70 km northwest of Beijing, and is approximately 6,000 kilometers long. It’s wide enough for 5 horses or 10 men to walk side by side comfortably. The height of the Great Wall is different in different areas and range from 2 feet to over 30 feet tall. In 2009, the State Administration of Cultural Heritage along with the National Bureau of Surveying and Mapping Agency, updated the current length of this portion of the wall to 8851.8 km. After conducting research for over 4 years these agencies came to the conclusion that the accurate length of the Great Wall is 21,196.18 km. This new data includes all the wall, towers, and fortresses built within the different territories and by the different dynasties throughout China’s history.

Over 10 billion people visit the Great Wall each year. The most famous portion has been visited by over 300 international heads of state. This also means that this portion of the structure that takes the most amount of maintenance and restoration and was rebuilt during the 1950’s.

Where Exactly is the Great Wall Located?

The Great Wall crosses 15 regions of northern China: Heilongjiang, Jilin, Liaoning, Inner Mongolia, Beijing, Tianjin, Hebei, Shandong, Henan, Shanxi, Shaanxi, Gansu, Ningxia, Qinghai, and Xinjiang.

The Great Wall of China has been referred to as the largest cemetery on Earth as over 1 million people died building the Wall, over a period of more than 2,500 years. During restoration projects, archaeologists have found several human remains within the walls of the historical architecture itself.

A very well known legend regarding one such death story is known as “Men Jiangnu’s Bitter Weeping”, whose husband died while doing his part to build this historical structure. Her weeping was so bitter that it caused a section of the wall to collapse, revealing her husband’s bones so she could honorably bury them. 

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Marion Wijnberg

Writer

Marion lives in Ohio and has two grown children and one grandson. As well as loving the time she gets to spend with them, she also enjoys rescuing animals. Marion currently has 2 cats and a dog. She also loves to travel, read, play tennis and go horseback riding."