Today on Museum Bites we’re continuing our trek through China with a breathtaking hike atop the Great Wall. The Great Wall…I’m still having a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that my trusty Tevas and I were standing on this vast and ancient landmark.
Together we jostled through the shoulder-to-shoulder crowds and step by grueling step scrabbled up and down the steep inclines. Eventually, the mountain breeze began to cool, the crowds began to thin, and the view was nothing short of majestic.
From the Gobi Desert to the Yellow Sea, the Great Wall zips up, down and over China’s northern terrain. Qi Shi Huang, China’s newly anointed first emperor (see Qi’s Way), began construction in 221 BCE. The hammers and chisels were laid to rest in 1644 when the Manchus breached the Wall and overthrew the Ming Dynasty. The Great Wall’s main purpose was to prevent invasion, but it also defined China’s borders, showed off its strength, protected trade routes, and in the case of the Qing Dynasty (i.e., the usurping Manchus), prevented the Chinese from leaving.
Here are more Great Wall bites for you to munch on…
- The Great Wall is the largest military fortification ever constructed and is one of the seven wonders of the modern world.
- It is not one continuous structure, but instead a collection of walls with some sections running parallel.
- The total length of all sections combined is 13,170 miles (21,196 kilometers) and the average height is ~23 feet (7 meters).
- A variety of materials were used to construct the Great Wall. Some sections were made of packed earth, gravel, stone, or brick, depending on the region, and readily available supplies.
- Laborers during the Qin Dynasty used glutinous rice flour to mortar bricks.
- Over a million slaves, convicts, soldiers, and corvée—men from the general population forced into labor as a means of paying their share of tax—built the Great Wall.
- Hundreds of thousands died building the Wall and many were buried inside.
- Gated passages were constructed at key points along the Wall to control and protect trade routes, as well as allow military patrols and raids.
- Passages were typically secured with a set of massive doors made of brick or wood and flanked by a watchtower, moat, and wengcheng—a parapet that shielded the gate from attack.
- Signal towers were constructed at regular intervals along the wall and included barracks, armories, stables, and storage.
- Signal towers were used by troops to communicate via fire, smoke, lanterns, banners, drums, or clappers. In later years, firing a weapon such as a gun or cannon also had a knack for getting everyone’s attention.
- Genghis Khan (1162-1227) and the Mongols used women and children as human shields to breach the Great Wall and capture the capital city (modern day Beijing) in 1215.
- The Great Wall cannot be seen from the moon, however, it is visible in photos taken at low orbit (i.e., space shuttle, space station, satellites).
- Nearly one-third of the Great Wall has disappeared because of erosion, vandalism or government sanctioned construction projects.
- In 1987, the Great Wall became a United Nations Educational, Science and Cultural Operations World Heritage Site.
- Today, there is an ongoing effort by the Chinese government to repair and preserve the Great Wall.
For over 2,000 years, the Great Wall has withstood warfare, natural disasters, and the ravages of time. I am humbled and thankful for my good fortune to stand upon it and witness its majesty and might.
Click on this link and take a magical flight over the many and varied segments of the Great Wall. Next week, we’ll continue our Chinese adventure with a visit to the Forbidden City. Have a fantastic week!