The Great Wall of China was built to protect the Chinese Empire from marauders from the north. The first sections were built in the seventh century BC. At that time, China was segmented into many small states and political municipalities of varying sizes.
Scores of troops, conscripts, and others were used to construct the Great Wall of China. The materials employed were those available proximate to the wall itself. Near Beijing, the wall is constructed from quarried limestone blocks. In other locations, it is made of quarried granite or fired brick. Where such materials are used, two finished walls are erected with packed earth and rubble fill placed in between with a final paving to form a single unit.
In some areas the blocks were cemented with a mixture of gooey rice and egg whites. In the extreme western desert locations, where good materials are in scarce supply, the wall was constructed from dirt packed between rough wood secured with woven mats.
The wall consists mainly of three types of structures; namely, beacon towers for defense and soldier accommodation, walls for fortification purposes, and passes for allowing troop and delivery-route movements in various political subdivisions.
The Great Wall is high – high enough that you would need scaling ladders. There were garrisons of soldiers posted along the wall route. They lived in little turrets built to be observation posts. Anyone mounting a ladder to scale the wall would have to face armed soldiers at the top. This defensive arrangement slowed invaders considerably but not totally.
After subjugating and uniting China from seven Warring States, the emperor began what would become the Great Wall by connecting and extending four old fortification walls along northern China circa 700 B.C. Armies were stationed along the wall as a first line of defense against the invading nomadic Hsiung Nu tribes north of China (the Huns). Signal fires from the Wall provided early warnings of an attack.
When first built, the structure was envisioned as a group of independent walls for different states. The term Great Wall came into use in the Qin Dynasty. Emperor Qin Shihuang succeeded in his effort to have the walls joined together to ward off invasions from the Huns in the north. From then on, the Great Wall has served as a monument to the Chinese nation.
The Great Wall traverses great deserts, plains, grasslands, mountains, and plateaus. It stretches nearly 8,851.8 kilometers (5,500 miles) from the east to west. A few of the sections are now in ruins or have worn away to practically nothing. Nonetheless, the structure remains one of the most sought-after attractions on earth because of its architectural splendor and continuing historical significance.
The Great Wall we see today was constructed in great part during the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644). The structure starts from the Hushan Great Wall in the east to Jiayuguan Pass in the west, crossing Liaoning, Hebei, Beijing, Tianjin, Shanxi, Inner Mongolia, Ningxia, Shaanxi, Gansu, and Qinghai. The Great Wall isn’t actually a single, continuous wall – it’s a series of separate fortifications linked by hill defenses, rivers, and trenches of various depths.
Over the centuries, the Great Wall was rebuilt, modified, and extended. For over 2,000 years, millions of Chinese people were drafted to work on the task. The primary purpose was to protect the Chinese Empire from the Mongolians and other invaders. In some areas, two walls built in multiple dynastic periods can be seen alongside each other.
Defensive works such as forts, passes, and beacon towers were built along the Wall to house auxiliary soldiers and conscripts, store grain, conceal weapons, and transmit strategic military field data.
The structure evolved from continuing clashes between agricultural and nomadic economies. As such, the Great Wall provided protection for continuing economic development and cultural progress. It safeguarded the trading routes such as the historic Silk Road, and secured transmission of information and transportation.
Today, less than 30% of the Great Wall remains in good condition. Various preservation societies have called for greater protection of this important relic.
The construction of the Great Wall continued until the beginning of the Qing Dynasty (1644). Now, several sections of the wall have been restored as tourist attractions, and in other places the wall is quite well preserved.
In spring, when trees and plants turn green, the Great Wall wanders among the burgeoning vegetation. Everything looks so full of life. Spring is the time to avoid the tourist crowds of the summer and autumn. Visitors then should expect temperatures varying from 10 to 25ºC (50-77ºF).
The Great Wall will be protected by evolving statutes, according to Dong Yaohui, secretary-general of the China Great Wall Society. Legal protections will focus on protecting the Great Wall, attached buildings, and surroundings in the Beijing area. Intrepid hikers will not be permitted to explore unprotected sections of the Great Wall around Beijing.
The Ming wall construction is what remains today. It runs from Shanghai Pass in Hebei province to Jiayuguan Pass in Gansu province at the edge of the Gobi Desert. There is not much to see in the last 500 kilometers (310 miles) as little remains except for broken stones and rubble.
In the future, parts of the Great Wall may be utilized as roadways for small vehicles. The structure could be useful for laying solar energy panels to power adjoining municipalities for centuries to come. In any case, the Great Wall continues to be an international tourist attraction for visitors throughout the world.