Known to the Chinese as the ‘Long Wall of Ten Thousand Li’, the wall’s purpose was to defend the ‘Celestial Empire” from attack from its neighbours such as the Mongols and the Turks, among others.
It makes its way more than 20,000 kilometres across the country from Shanhaiguan in Hebei province in the east, ending at Jiayugan in Gansu province in the west. However, it is not one unbroken wall as many believe. Instead, it is broken up at intervals by natural barriers such as mountain ranges which eliminated the need for manmade defences in certain areas.
Although the wall can be visited in many provinces of north China, it is at its most impressive in the Beijing municipality with much of the rest of the structure crumbling due to natural erosion and human damage.
Unique Things to See and Do Near the Great Wall
- Explore the stretch of wall Mùtiányù with the aid of a chairlift, a cable car and a toboggan ride
- Brave the crowds for a snap of the wall at easily accessible Bādálǐng
- Take a 6 and a half hour hike from Gǔběikǒu to Jīnshānlǐng to view some recently restored pieces of wall
- Tackle the steep two and a half hour circuit at Jūyōngguān, 50 kms northwest of Beijing
The Great Wall Under Threat
Despite having weathered the many centuries since it was built, the future of the Great Wall could be in jeopardy.
Natural erosion and human damage have seen around 30% of the ancient fortification built in the Ming Dynasty disappear – that’s around 2,000 kilometres of the wall.
A recent survey has revealed only 8.2% of the wall to be in good condition, with a staggering 74.1% described as badly preserved. The sheer size of the wall is partly to blame for its demise, according to experts, because it makes it more difficult to monitor and maintain.
But graffiti, theft and tourism are also playing a major role, with some people taking parts of the wall to sell and some tourists taking pieces of the wall as souvenirs. Tourism developments that place unnecessary strain on the wall are also to blame, as is lax enforcement of protection rules.
Getting to the Great Wall
Getting to the Great Wall from Beijing is relatively easy. You can take the train from Beijing North Railway Station directly to Badaling station which is just over a kilometre from the entrance to the Great Wall, a journey that can easily be tackled on foot.
However, many people consider this section of wall to be touristy and tacky. But getting to less crowded parts of the wall such as Jūyōngguān can be more tricky. Many tour operators run tours which will pick you up from your hotel and take you to different parts of the wall. Otherwise, you can attempt to make the journey yourself by taxi.
Did you know…?
Rice flour was used to make the material to bind the bricks of the Great Wall in the earliest days of its construction.
Did you ALSO know…?
Over a million people died building the wall and archaeologists have found human remains buried under sections, prompting some to call it the longest cemetery on earth.
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