The Great Wall of China is one of the most visited places in the world. The Wall has a very long history, from defending the country’s economic development, its culture, trading routes during the early years, and until this very day, it is the signature landmark of China and one of the greatest sights in the world — the longest wall in the world, an awe-inspiring feat of ancient defensive architecture. Its winding path over a rugged country and steep mountains take in some great scenery.
- Chinese name: 长城 (Chángchéng /channg-chnng/ ‘Long Wall’)
- Another name: 万里长城 (Wàn-Lǐ Chángchéng /wann-lee channg-chnng/ ‘Ten-Thousand-Li-Long Wall’, i.e. ‘the 5,000-Kilometer-Long Wall’)
Get a thorough intro to the Great Wall of China: length, history, protection, location maps, mind-blowing facts, how, when, who, why built it, and Great Wall travel.
How Long Is the Great Wall of China?
The length of the Great Wall of China is 21,196.18 km (13,170.7 mi), half the equator!. The data came from the State Administration of Cultural Heritage. In 2009, the State Administration of Cultural Heritage first published data on the Ming Dynasty Great Wall, which measured 8,851 kilometers (5499 miles).
Why Was the Great Wall of China Built?
- To defend nomads and protect China’s North
- To promote expansion and protect the Silk Road
In the Qin Dynasty, the First Emperor of Qin inked the northern walls to prevent invasion from northern nations. In the Han Dynasty, the emperors extended the Great Wall far into today’s western China to protect the Silk Road trade.
History of the Great Wall of China
The Great Wall of China has a history of more than 2,300 years. The Great Wall of China’s history began in the Spring and Autumn Period (770–476 BC) and was last rebuilt as a defense in the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644).
Early Walls (770-221 BC)
During the Spring and Autumn Period (770–476 BC) and the Warring States Period (475–221 BC) when the eastern and central region of what is now China consisted of many small states or princedoms, the princes ordered independent walls be built along state borders to protect their states. The earliest was probably built between the states of Lu and Qi around 650 BC, which later became part of the Chu State Wall.
The Qin Dynasty (221–206 BC)
Qin Shihuang (king of the State of Qin from 247–221 BC) conquered and unified the other states. Emperor Qin Shihuang ordered that the northern sections of walls on state borders, especially the walls in the northern part of China built by the states of Qin, Zhao, and Yan, be joined together to form a unified line of defense against Mongol harassment from the north, the first true Great Wall. Other state border walls became obsolete in a unified China and were subsequently eroded or dismantled.
The Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD)
The northern fortifications were strengthened and lengthened, with sections of wall running parallel for hundreds of kilometers and interlinking along the Inner Mongolian border.
The Han Dynasty Great Wall from the North Korean coast near Pyongyang in the east to Jade Gate Pass (Yumenguan) in the west was the longest the Great Wall has ever been at more than 8,000 km (5,000 miles). The total length included many branching walls, natural barriers, and trenches.
The Yuan Dynasty (1271–1368)
The Yuan Dynasty was the first dynasty in which the whole of China was controlled by a non-Han people, the Mongols. The Great Wall had done a good job of preserving Han China for 1,500 years. The building of the Great Wall, not surprisingly, ceased during the Yuan Dynasty, as China and Mongolia to the north were one.
The Ming Dynasty (1368–1644)
China flourished during the Ming Dynasty and its military might swelled. The Great Wall was systematically rebuilt in a 100-year project to prevent further northern invasion.
Most of the remaining Great Wall was built in the Ming Dynasty and is known as the Ming Great Wall. The Great Wall sections close to Beijing like the Badaling section and Mutianyu section were built during the Ming Dynasty.
Post-Ming History (1644–present)
A breach in the Great Wall at Shanhai Pass in 1644 by Manchu forces signaled the end of Han control in China for the last and final Chinese dynasty, the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911). It also signaled the end of construction and maintenance of the Great Wall, until the Badaling section was restored by the government of the Peoples’ Republic of China, and opened to the public in 1957 as a tourist attraction.
Great Wall of China Location and Map
The Great Wall stretches from west to east in northern China, and mainly covers 15 provincial-level areas: Beijing, Tianjin, Liaoning, Jilin, Heilongjiang, Hebei, Henan, Shandong, Shanxi, Shaanxi, Hubei, Inner Mongolia, Ningxia, Gansu, and Qinghai.
Facts About Great Wall of China
Here are some amazing facts about the great wall of china
The Great Wall is called “Changcheng” in Chinese.
The Great Wall’s Chinese name is “Wanli Changcheng,” or simply “Changcheng.” The four Chinese characters, “万里长城” (Wanli Changcheng) or Great Wall was written in the biography of General Meng Tian who lived in the late third century BC.
The Great Wall of China is a collection of walls.
The Great Wall is not a single wall, but rather a collection of walls that are connected. These walls are made up of towers and forts which are built in different historical periods. Hence, the overall layout of the Great Wall is not a long single line, where some portions are parallel and uneven. In some areas, the walls are also much higher and bigger.
The Great Wall has several defensive assets.
The Great Wall’s defensive assets are its watchtowers, garrison stations, troop barracks, and battle signals such as using smoke or fire. It also has a platform for efficient transportation.
It was built over various dynasties.
The Great Wall was first built during the Warring States Period (an era of division in ancient China during 476–221 BC). After which, it was during the Qin Dynasty (221–207 BC), that Emperor Qin decided to connect the walls and also to unify the whole nation. Afterwhich, more notable dynasties which contributed largely to the construction of the wall was the Han Dynasty (206 BC–220 AD), and the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644).
The Great Wall’s construction ended during the Ming dynasty.
The completion of the Great Wall of China was officially finished in the year 1644 under the Ming dynasty. Ironically, it was also the year when the Ming dynasty was overthrown.
The Great Wall spans across 15 regions in northern China.
The Great Wall of China starts from Hushan, Liaoning in the east, and ends at Jiayuguan Pass, Gansu in the west. In between, it passes through a total of 15 regions: Heilongjiang, Jilin, Liaoning, Inner Mongolia, Beijing, Tianjin, Hebei, Shandong, Henan, Shanxi, Shaanxi, Gansu, Ningxia, Qinghai, and Xinjiang.
The wall’s average height is 6–7 meters.
On average, the height of the Great Wall stands at 6 to 7 meters, or 20 to 23 feet, while its width ranges from 4 to 9 meters. Moreover, some parts of the walls reach as high as 14 meters or 46 feet.
The highest point is in Beijing.
The Great Wall’s highest point is located in Beijing at Heita Mountain at 5,033 feet. In contrast, the Great Wall’s lowest point is at Laolongtou at sea level.
The materials used for the construction depended on the area’s local resources.
The core materials of the Great Wall’s construction were minerals, rocks, soil, brick, lime, ones, and wood. However, each material that was used highly depended on the area’s local resources at that time. For instance, walls in the plains are mostly built by lime and bricks while walls in the mountain are built with stones.
The Qin Dynasty used glutinous rice flour to bind the bricks.
From 221–207 BC, the Qin Dynasty used glutinous rice flour (a type of rice grown mainly in Southeast and East Asia) for building the Great Wall using them as a “glue” to bind the bricks.
It is said to be the world’s longest cemetery.
The Great Wall of China is also known as the longest cemetery on the planet. As millions of laborers died while building the Great Wall, most of them were buried beneath it.
The Great Wall has a sad Chinese tale.
“Meng Jiangnu’s Bitter Weeping” is one of the most popular legends of the Great Wall of China. According to the legend, when Lady Meng learned that her husband died while building the wall, she cried for 3 days and 3 nights at the Great Wall. She wept so hard that a part of the wall collapsed, eventually exposing the bones of her husband.
One-third of the walls are missing.
Around one-third of the Great Wall is missing due to natural erosion and human activities, such as tourist damages, and locals who steal the bricks to build houses. Some parts of the wall are deteriorating at a quick rate that they may disappear totally in the next 30 years, if conservation efforts are not taking place immediately.
Badaling is one of the most popular sections of the Great Wall.
Located in Beijing, Badaling is the first section to be opened for tourism in 1957. It is the most visited section, hence also the most well-maintained section of the Great Wall. The highest point of the Badaling is Beibalou, sitting at approximately 1105 meters above sea level.
Badaling was created during the Ming dynasty.
Back then, its primary purpose was to seize and hold a strategic point to protect the Juyongguan Pass (a mountain pass located in the Changping District of Beijing Municipality) to the south, and to safeguard the city of Beijing.
The Great Wall of China attracts more than 10 million visitors annually.
The Great Wall is a must-visit attraction for tourists who are visiting China. Every year, the Great Wall draws more than 10 million visitors. Due to the large volume of visitors, Beijing has limited the daily visitor number to 65,000 at the most famous Badaling section of the Great Wall.
More than 400 country leaders have visited the Great Wall.
From the earliest being the President of USSR, Kliment Voroshilov in 1957, to Barack Obama in 2009 and David Cameron in 2010, the Great Wall has welcomed not just country leaders, but also many celebrities such as Mark Zuckerberg and Michael Jordan.
William Geil was the first person to introduce the Great Wall of China to the westerners.
It was only in 1909 that westerners came to know about the Great Wall of China. William Geil spent 3 months at the Great Wall, and finally published his book “The Great Wall of China” which introduced this great structure, complete with images, which were considered a rare resource during those times.
Jamie Bradish and Rob England hiked the entire Great Wall of China in 10 months.
In 2007, Americans Jamie Bradish and Rob England hiked the entire Great Wall by starting their journey at the Yumenguan Great Wall in the Gansu Province to the easternmost point of the Great Wall on Hushan Mountain.
The whole journey was more than 2900 kilometers, and it took them 10 months to complete the hike. Along the way, Chinese locals treated Jamie and Rob with full hospitality giving them a boost of confidence which also fueled them to keep ongoing.
You can’t see the Great Walls from the moon with your naked eyes.
In contrast to some popular belief that the Great Wall can be seen from the moon with naked eyes, the truth is it’s not visible at all. Imagine staring at a needle more than 3 kilometers away, that’s how invisible the Great Wall is!
It may actually be visible from space under certain conditions.
The Great Wall was actually seen by astronauts at the International Space Station. It may not be easy to spot at one glance, but if one knows exactly where to look during favorable viewing conditions, the Great Wall is actually visible by our naked eyes.
It is part of the New7Wonders of the World.
In 2007, the Great Wall of China was listed in the New7Wonders of the World along with Chichén Itzá in Mexico, Petra in Jordan, Machu Picchu in Peru, Colosseum in Rome, Christ the Redeemer in Brazil, and Taj Mahal in India. Moreover, UNESCO recognized the Great Wall as the biggest man-made structure in the world.
For some, the Great Wall is also a symbol of dictatorship.
The Great Wall of China is also viewed by others as a symbol of the government’s and dynasties’ dictatorship, tyranny, and despotism. This is one of the reasons why some people are intentionally destroying and stealing some of the wall’s bricks and stones most especially during the ’70s.
The Mutianyu section is the longest section open for tourists.
As popular as Badaling, but less crowded, the Mutianyu section is the perfect choice for tourists. This 2.5-kilometer section was fully restored in 1986 and it boasts of its beautiful scenery filled with green pines and cypresses.
Jinshanling is the most popular hiking route on the Great Wall.
The Jinshanling-Simatai section is a popular 4-hour hiking route. It is half restored and half wild, making it one of the most beautiful areas of the Great Wall where hikers can take in the original look of the wall.
You can enjoy the night view of the Great Wall at the Simatai.
Simatai is the only section open for night tours. It is also one of the brightest lit sections of the Great Wall. Enjoy a night stroll at the walls and take in the night view of the surrounding countryside.
The Jiankou section is a dangerous spot for non-experienced hikers.
The Great Wall’s most dangerous part or section is the Jiankou section. This section is created on a steep mountain ridge on both sides and it’s suggested that only a seasoned veteran should hike in this area.
What makes this section particularly attractive is its beautiful scenery. This is where avid photography lovers take their picturesque photos of the Great Wall of China.
There are temples along the Great Wall.
Several temples were built alongside the Great Wall of China to glorify their gods. Having temples near gives soldiers a boost of morale which they need especially in battle.
The wheelbarrow was invented in the Great Wall era.
During the construction of the Great Wall, the Chinese invented the wheelbarrow. It helped them move the stones, rocks, bricks, and debris in a very efficient way.
The total cost of the Great Wall is around $95 billion.
The Great Wall of China is one of the most expensive constructions that humanity has ever made. In today’s money, its total cost is around $95 billion. It’s just several billion short compared to the world’s most expensive energy project Kashagan Oil Fields, which costs $116 billion.