The Great Wall of China is not a single wall but a series of walls and fortifications across the historical northern frontier of China. Their purpose was to defend China from the peoples who lived across the wall in the Eurasian Steppe - like the Mongols but also many other steppe people. These walls were built over many hundreds of years with the first sections being constructed around the 7th century BC - although little of these early parts remain.

Today, it is recognized as one of the most impressive feats of engineering in human history. At different times and at different sections, the wall was earthen, not all off it was made of stone. Some of the earlier walls extended into what is today North Korea.


About The Great Wall

It is important to understand that this is not a singular wall like Hadrian's wall in England, but rather a series of walls built over hundreds of years. Many of these walls are not joined to the main wall, some of the older walls were not incorporated into the later walls.

In 2012 it was reported to be much longer than previously thought. It has been reported to be 8,850 km long but this has been revised to an incredible 21,000 km. Earlier estimates had been based on historical records, but the new estimate is based on archeological studies.

  • Length Of The Wall: Combined It Is Believed To Measure Some 13,170 Miles or 21,196 Kilometers
  • Record: Largest Man-Made Structure Ever Built
  • 8.2%: The Amount Of The Wall Intact - The Rest Is In Poor Condition

The largest and latest parts of the wall were built during the Ming Dynasty of China. This is when the wall was at its greatest. It extended from the Jiayu Pass in the western Gansu province all the way into the deserts of Ningxia, from there continues all the way to the sea. In Shanxi province, the wall split into two with the "Outer Great Wall" that ran along the Inner Mongolia border. And then there was the "Inner Great Wall" that extended south through the important passes like Yanmen Pass and Pinxing Pass before joining the Outer Great Wall.

Related: 10 Etiquette Tips To Know Before Traveling To China

Today only parts of the Great Wall have been renovated and restored. It is forbidden to access much of it in order to preserve it. One of the most popular sections of the wall is the Badaling Great Wall that draws around 10 million visitors annually.

  • Most Popular Section: Badaling Great Wall

When the Ming brought back the idea of defending the country with a great wall. They built it much stronger and more elaborate than before and they used bricks and stone instead of the earthen walls of earlier constructions.

  • 25,000: Number of Watchtowers Believed To Have Been Built On The Ming Era Great Wall

Obsolescence of The Wall

All things come to an end. Hadrian's Wall lost its usefulness, games ceased in the Colosseum in Rome, and America's Wild Frontier ceased to be both wild and a frontier. The same went with the Great Wall of China, in the end, it was rendered obsolete - not because of cannons and gunpowder, but be because China's borders moved north.

The wall was built in part to defend the Chinese Empire against the Manchus of northern China (who then were not part of China) and the Mongolians. Eventually, the Manchus breached the wall, defeated the Chinese army, seized the capital Beijing, and established the Qing dynasty over all of China. Under Qing rule, Mongolia was annexed to the empire of China (there are also many reasons to visit Mongolia). Thus at once, Beijing went from being a border city to a more or less a central city and the Great Wall went from being the frontier of China to being completely within China. The people that it was meant to defend China from had taken over China or been incorporated into China.

Related: What You Shouldn't Visit In Beijing, China

The Visibility From Space Myth

It seems that the myth that the Great Wall is visible from space stems from stories reaching the West of how big the wall was. The first claim that it was visible from space that we have is from 1754 by English antiquary William Stukeley who wrote: "This mighty wall [Hadrian's wall] of four score miles in length is only exceeded by the Chinese Wall, which makes a considerable figure upon the terrestrial globe, and might be discerned at the Moon." Of course, living 270 years ago how would he have known?

  • Fun Fact: The Great Wall Of China Is The Only Man-Made Object One Can See From Space - False
  • Hundreds: There Are Hundreds Of Man-Made Objects Visible From Space (e.g. Highways, Airports, Cities, Artificial Islands Of Dubai, etc.)
  • The Great Wall: Is Not Visible From Space (And Only With Perfect Conditions From Lower Earth Orbit) - It Lacks The Width And Contrast (Also Most of The Wall Is Not Very Visible - Or Visible At All - From The Ground!)

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