The Great Wall of China – Everything You Need to Know

Declared as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in 2007 and listed as a World Heritage by UNESCO in 1987, The Great Wall of China is indeed a magnificent sight to see. With its overwhelming length, a variety of materials such as stone, brick, rammed earth, and wood, and rich historical values, The Great Wall is more than a tourist attraction to China.

Shaped like a huge dragon, the Great Wall has wind up and down through deserts, mountains, grasslands, and plateaus. Its estimated length is 21,196 kilometers or 13,171 miles from east to west of China.


 

Some sections of the Great Wall are now in relics or have vanished since it was built around 2,700 years ago. Nevertheless, The Great Wall of China continues to be one of the most grand and visited attraction all over the world due to its intricate architecture and historical abundance.

 

The Great Wall of China Facts

Length of the Wall

The Great Wall of China was built in different dynasties. The total length when all the dynasties are combined would be 21,196.18 kilometers. This measurement was declared by China’s State Administration of Cultural Relics in 2012.

  • Ming Great Wall. Stretching at 8,851.8 kilometers or 5,500.3 miles, The Great Wall of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) is the best-preserved section of the Great Wall. It extends from Hushan in Liaoning to Jiayuguan in Gansu. It has an artificial wall with 6,259.6 km length, a trench with a measurement of 359.7 km, and a natural barrier that measures 2,232.5 km. Other parts of the Ming Great Wall are beacon towers (5,723), watching towers (7,062), platforms (3,357), and ruins (1,026).
  • Due to its location’s remoteness, measuring the size of the Great Wall was not easy. It took a 5-year archeological survey and the assistance of modern measuring techniques to gauge the total length of the Wall. Surprisingly, the announced total measurement is twice the number of the initial estimates.

Its relics can be found in 15 provinces and regions of China. The provinces include Beijing, Tianjin, Hebei, Shanxi, Inner Mongolia, Liaoning, Jilin, Heilongjiang, Shandong, Henan, Shaanxi, Gansu, and Qinghai. Walls, trenches, towers, fortresses, and other relics are approximately counted at 43,721.

  • The different dynasties that built the Great Wall are Qi, Chu, Yan, Zhao, Wei, Qin, Han, Northern Wei, Northern Qi/Sui, Jin, and Ming.
  • Lost Portion of the Great Wall. Because of the natural erosion and human activity, the wall gets shorter every day. There were those who destroyed the wall to build modern construction while other people removed and took home some bricks for their personal use. This has greatly affected the length of the wall and was only addressed in 2006 with the implementation of the Protection Regulation.
  • Increasing length. Due to restorations, the length of the Great Wall is fairly increasing. There are renovations being done in different sections located in Hefangkou and Xishuiyu among others. The restoration in Jiankou Great wall located in Beijing is 40% completed as of the end of 2016.

There were also discoveries that contributed to the increased length of the wall. An example would be the 40 km find in Jixian County, Tianjin. It was discovered in 2012 as part of the Ming Wall. Another one is the 2014 discovery of a wall measuring 46.585 km that belonged to the Northern Qi Dynasty.

 

Sections of Great Wall

With the immense length of the Wall, it winds over deserts, grasslands, and mountains. The final destination of the wall would be the Bohai Gulf. Moving up and down from Jiayuguan Pass in the west to Hushan Mountain in Liaoning in the east, the Wall touches over ten provinces and cities.


  • Beijing – There are many relics of the Wall that can be found here. Many of which were built in 1540. Some of the notable sections are:
    • Badaling Great Wall – It is the most popular and best-preserved section. Most of its stairs are not steep and has handrails. It also has cable cars and pulleys.

    • Simatai Great Wall – This section is partially restored. It is the only portion of the wall that is opened for night tour.

    • Huanghuacheng Great Wall – It is the only section of the Wall that is beside a lake. Because of this, it is one of the top destinations for a hiking tour in the Great Wall.

    • Lupiguan Great Wall ­– Lupiguan means a pass, like beautiful deerskin. The Lupiguan Pass, a solid pass that runs across the Baihe River, was damaged and destroyed due to weather and human activities.

    • Mutianyu Great Wall – Also a well-preserved section of the wall, Mutianyu is a less crowded tourist spot with breathtaking natural scenery.

    • Jinshanling Great Wall – This portion of the wall has a complete defensive system. It is composed of barriers, battlement walls, holes for shooting, blocking walls for horse, and other effective defense outlets.

    • Jiankou Great Wall – Considered as one of the most wild and dangerous section of the Wall, the Jiankou Great Wall, also known as Arrow Nock”, because of its arrow-shaped mountain, is the most photographed section of the Wall.

    • Badaling Remnant Great Wall – This wall served as the west gate of the defense systems of the Wall. The Remnant Great Wall is a witness to the structure of Great Wall, the biggest military defense construction in history.

    • Juyongguan Great Wall – This section is the most famous pass of the Great Wall. It is a solid lock encircling a valley. It also has various old buildings, towers and temples.

    • Gubeikou Great Wall – Due to its strategic location, there were many battles fought in the Gubeikou Great Wall. Though never reconstructed, its crawling wall and watchtowers still reflect the glory of the past.

    • Shuiguan or Water Pass Great Wall – This section was built in a valley and has a huge “V” shape. The steps in Shuiguan Wall are steeper than the usual, especially in the eastern portion.

    • Xiangshuihu Great Wall – It is well-known due to the winding Great Wall on mountains, the Health Preserving Valley, and the translucent Xiangshui Spring.

    • Gansu – Mogao Caves and Maijishan Grottoes, these are just some of the many cultural relics of Silk Road that can be found in Gansu. The relics also served an essential role in the early military defense.

      Dunhuang Great Wall – Dunhuang was built using local sands and plants instead of stones and bricks. Relics of old ports and beacon towers can be found on the desert as mounds, these were used for military and cross-border training purposes.

    • Yangguan Great Wall – This section is famous for its defense line. This is also a gateway for trade between central and west China.

    • Shandan Great Wall – This portion of the wall has caught the attention of some environmental groups due to its bare earth walls. Lands near the wall were developed into farmlands in which heavy equipment was used causing vibrations on the wall.

    • Jiayuguan Great Wall – Rammed earth was the material used in building Jiayuguan Wall giving it a dominant hue of yellow. It has played an important role in ancient trading, connecting China to Central Asia and Europe.

    • Yumenguan Great Wall – Also known as Small Square Castle, Yumenguan stands alone in a vast desert. It used to be a fierce battlefield and rich trading gateway between merchants.

    • Juyan Fortress of Great Wall– Served as an ancient defensive barrier, the Juyan Fortress was a vital passage that connected the central and western regions.

    • Overhanging Great Wall­ – Another tool for the defense system of ancient times, this section looks like a dragon overhanging a slope.

    • Hebei – There are also numerous relics of Great Wall that are located in Hebei specifically in the eastern, northwestern, and southwestern portion of the province.

    • Shanhaiguan Great Wall – Many calls it the “First Pass under Heaven” since it is the first pass in the eastern part of the Great Wall. Its tactical location made it hard for the enemies to attack the Chinese.

    • Banchangyu Great Wall – Anyone can be captivated by the beauty of Banchangyu Wall due to its precipitous and authentic built. It is hanging on the crests of a mountain and has a slope of around 80 degrees.

    • Daomaguan Great Wall­ – Other than with Juyongguan and Zijingguan, Daomaguan Great Wall is known as one of the “Three Inner Passes”. Its name means “Tumbling Horse Pass” due to the dangerous mountain terrain that caused many horses to fall during the ancient battles.

    • Dajingmen Great Wall – Another pass along the Great Wall, Dajingmen is located on the border of central plain and Mongolian areas. It served as the entrance to the mainland.

    • Laolongtou Great Wall – Laolongtou means “Old Dragon’s Head” because it looks like a dragon drinking water from the sea. It used to be considered as the starting point of the Great Wall since it is where the Wall meets the sea.

    • Xifengkou and Panjiakou Underwater Great Wall­ – A highlight of the Panjiakou Reservoir Scenic Area, this section of the wall has its main parts submerged underwater. It was submerged due to the construction of the Panlong Lake.

    • Great Wall in Zhangjiakou City – Due to Heibei’s strategic location, many dynasties have built and constructed a military defense wall in Zhangjiakou City. The Wall in the city was also considered as the “Great Wall Museum”.

    • Jiaoshan Great Wall – It is also called “First Mountain of the Great Wall”. This is because it is the first mountain that the Great Wall climbs from the northern part of the country.

    • Zijingguan Great Wall – As one of the “Three Inner Passes”, Zijingguan Pass is considered by many as the highlight of the Great Wall. It had four gates and complicated structures. There are five forts that form a circle. Each fort is capable of defending itself from their enemies alone.

    • Wulonggou Great Wall – The walls in Wulonggou are made of piled-up stones. Its watchtowers, on the other hand, are made of blue bricks. It is a well-preserved section and has never been restored nor repaired.

    • Inner Mongolia – It has the most numerous Great Wall relics among the provinces. The total length is about 1/3 of the overall length of China’s Great Wall. Sadly, some of the relics have died out while many remains were destroyed.

    • Gaoque Fortress – The meaning of Gaoque in English is high gate towers. Its name then was taken from the two dark red peaks on each die of the Chagan Valley. These peaks look like two gate towers when you see it from afar.

    • Jilu Fortress – This was used as a military stronghold during wars. This fortress is one of the best-preserved sections and was developed for tourist attraction purposes.

    • Liaoning – Recently, Liaoning is considered as the eastern beginning of the Great Wall. It used to be a part of the Nine Important Towns on the Border during the Ming Dynasty and was administered by the Liaodong Town.

    • Hushan Great Wall – It lies close to the Yalu River of Dandong City and winds up to the Hushan Mountain. When seen from afar, the two towering peaks look like two tiger ears pricking up into the sky.

    • Jiumenkou Great Wall – It is also known as the “Great Wall over Water”, since it runs from the bank of the Jiujiang River o the northern mountains.

    • Zhuizishan Great Wall – Zhuizishan is known for its breathtaking “Three Dragons Getting Together” view. It means that the three lines of the Great Wall come together in Zhuizishan.

    • Great Wall in Ningxia – This section has a total length of 1,507 kilometers with 589 watchtowers, 237 beacon towers, and 25 forts. The highly recommended relic in Ningxia is the Sanguankou.

    • Shaanxi – The total length of the Great Wall built in Shaanxi is more than 2,000 kilometers.

    • Yulin Great Wall – The Wall was extended to Yulin to enhance the defense of China over their territory.

    • Great Wall Relics of Wei State – It is estimated to be over 2,300 years old. Though many of its sections are already gone, some relics were found in Huayi, Dali County, and Hancheng.

    • Zhenbeitai Great Wall – This is where the heart of the dragon, or the Great Wall, is located. This section holds the biggest watchtower along the Great Wall. Because of its tactical location and military importance, this relic is also known as the “First Tower of the Great Wall”.

    • Shanxi – Many remains of the Great Wall are located here since it is considered as a point of battle. The walls here have inner and outer parts, the inner wall being used as a second line of defense.

    • Guguan Great Wall – This is the only section of the Great Wall that has a well-preserved stone. It also has a pass that has two gates and three administrative offices. There are also temples that you can visit in and around the Guguan Pass.

    • Pianguan Great Wall – One of the favorite locations of photographers in the Great Wall is Pianguan. The reason is its great construction and magnificent natural masterpiece.

    • Datong Great Wall – You can find many wall relics in this section that are well-preserved. Thus, some scholars called it “the museum of the Great Wall”.

    • Niangzi Pass – It is also known as the “Ninth Pass under Heaven” but was named as Niangzi Pass due to the group of women soldiers guarding the pass. Niangzi Pass literally means a pass guarded by women.

    • Pingxing Pass – The name indicates a vase-shaped pass because of its vase-like terrain. This is another portion of the wall that was significantly used as a military defense in history.

    • Ningwu Pass – It sits in the central area of the Shanxi province and served as the garrison headquarters.

    • Yanmenguan Great Wall – A 2,000 years old frontier post, the Yanmenguan Great Wall stands in the depths of Yanmen Mountain alone.

    • Tianjin – Most of the walls in Tianjin are stone-structured except the Huangyaguan Pass which is made out of bricks. It has an overall system for defense which includes walls, terraces, fire towers and fortresses.

    • Huangyaguan Great Wall – Many sees Huangyaguan as a miniature of the Great Wall. It has both solid and hollow watchtowers with different shapes, from rounds to squares.

    • Taipingzhai Great Wall – It has six watch towers which include one battlement, one barbican, and one shortcut that can lead you to the Great Wall. It also has watchtowers with varying shapes.

 

History of Great Wall of China

The start of Great Wall of China’s history is believed to be in the Spring and Autumn Period (770 – 476 BC). There were 20 states and dynasties involved in the construction of the wall for over 2,500 years.



  • Zhou Dynasty (1046 – 256 BC)

Due to contemporary powerful states that were established during this period, walls were built and troops were stationed on the borders. The first wall built is the “Square Wall” or the Chu State Great Wall. Qi State, Wei State, Yan State, Zhao State, and Qin State were then added on a later period.

  • Qin Dynasty (1046 – 256 BC)

China was unified for the first time in 221BC with the leadership of Emperor Qin Shi Huang. He was the one who ordered to link and extend the Great Wall located in the different states.

  • Han Dynasty (202 BC – 220 AD)

When Emperor Qin Shi Huang died, the Qin Dynasty ended because of mass uprisings. Emperor Gaozu then established the Han Dynasty. He ordered the wall to be renovated and reinforced. He also led the construction of the Great Wall in large-scale restoring the Yanmenguan Pass in 130BC, renovating the Qin Dynasty Wall in 127BC, and ordering the construction of the defensive line between Yongdeng County and Jiuquan in 121BC.

  • Jin Dynasty (265 – 420)

The works done during the Jin Dynasty were mostly renovations of the eastern part of the Qin Dynasty wall due to the maintained good relationship of the central court to the northern tribes.

  • Southern and Northern Dynasties (420 – 589)

When the Han Dynasty fell, unity in China was lost due to different states wanting more territories. Because of this, more of the Great Wall was built to defend themselves. Though their projects were only on a smaller scale.

  • Sui Dynasty (581 – 618)

It was the Sui Dynasty who ended the turmoil in the country. Emperors of this dynasty stressed the importance of border defense from the constant invasion of the northern nomadic tribes.  Thus, walls and fortresses were ordered to be constructed in the north and west. The first project was completed after 28 years and had to employ two million workers.

  • Tang Dynasty (618 – 907)

Peace was brought between the northern tribes and Central China during the Tang Dynasty. Though there were a few times wherein peace was not maintained, thus, some sections of the wall were built.

  • Liao Dynasty (907 – 1125)

Emperor Shengzong and Xingzong ordered the massive construction of the Great Wall in the boundary line with the Bohai Kingdom.

  • Song Dynasty (960 – 1279)

Before losing to the Jin Dynasty from the north, the Song Dynasty was able to use the Great Wall to defend their place from Northerners and Westerners such as Xia and Liao.

  • Jin Dynasty (1115 – 1234)

Jin Dynasty is considered as a strong regime in the northeast China. Due to the threats of Western Xia and the Mongol Empire invasion, the dynasty built the northernmost portion of the wall in 1194. Unfortunately, the drought and objection of ministers caused the suspension of the project.

  • Yuan Dynasty (1271 – 1368)

Yuan Dynasty was established by the strong Mongol Empire. Few sections were built during the Yuan’s reign since they have a large territory and a very strong military power.

  • Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644)

Ming Dynasty is considered as the Great Wall of China’s peak. Due to harassment from northern tribes such as Tartars and Jurchens, the dynasty continued to construct the defensive wall for over two centuries. Other than lengthening the wall, the Ming emperors also ordered the enlargement of the previous dynasties’ projects by putting duplicate or multi-line walls.

  • Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1911)

Though a very powerful empire, the Ming dynasty failed to stop the Qing Dynasty from invading them. Established by the Machu tribe in the northeast part of China, the Qing Dynasty was able to enter the Shanhaiguan Pass and occupy the central plain. Though they only added a few sections of the wall, it was the Qing Dynasty who ordered the construction of a deep trench in Lianing and Inner Mongolia wherein willows were planted.

  • 1911 – Present

No major constructions were made during this era and the Great Wall welcomed a renovation on a nationwide scale starting in the 1980s. Today, the Great Wall is China’s national symbol and probably the most popular tourist spot in the country.

 

Great Wall Tours

Every traveler would want to visit and experience the hikes in the Great Wall of China. Either backpacking and creating a DIY itinerary or taking guided hiking tours, anyone can enjoy and have fun with the breathtaking views and greatness of the Great Wall.

There are organizations who offer private hiking tours and the price usually starts at $49. The final amount that you will have to pay will depend on the number of days and the section of the wall that you would choose to hike. Take necessary precautions in buying your tours to avoid traps.

You can also check out the independent hiking tours wherein you can take the hike on your own. Examples of independent tours are the One Day Gubeikou Hiking, Beijing Knot Great Wall Hiking, and the Sizoulou Adventure. You just have to remember and take note of the routes and know what to ride to go there.

If you cannot decide which section to visit, try first the Badaling and Mutianyu in Beijing as these sections portray the full features of the Great Wall. Many travelers have picked Badaling as their favorite while Mutianyu is a good choice if you will go to China on holidays.

Visiting and exploring the Great Wall can be more enjoyable during the months of March to October. Better to avoid public holidays if you do not want a large number of tourist companions.

Anyone can visit the wall, even the seniors, children and handicapped. There are sections like Badaling and Mutianyu that have cable cars, luges and pulley cars for the ease and comfort of the tourists.

If you are into hiking, you can opt to go to Jinshanling to experience its stunning scenery and military defensive constructions that are well-preserved. Another option and is very popular among hikers is Simatai.

For safety and easier hiking, ensure to wear pants and anti-skid sneakers. Protect your skin by applying sunscreen and your eyes by wearing eyeglasses.

For food, you can buy from fast food restaurants located near the Great Wall. Or you can always bring your own food.

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