A must-see on any visit to Beijing, the UNESCO-accredited Great Wall of China is one of the newly listed Wonders of the World, and winds like a dragon from China’s east coast on the Bohai Sea to the deserts of the country’s western Gansu Province.
Crossing wide open plains, mountain passes, rolling hills, river valleys and high ridges along its full, original 4,000-mile-and more span, this incredible structure is revered by China’s people as a symbol of their rich history and culture.
Construction of the earliest parts of the wall began in the 3rd century BC to protect the country’s northern borders from foreign marauders. From then on, building continued up to and right through the Ming dynasty era until the late 16th century and beyond. This fragmented history and construction means that today’s wall is far from a continuous, consistent structure, but a series of fortifications built at different times to different designs using different materials, such as brick, stone, tamped earth, willow wood, reeds, sand and more. At its height, the Ming sections of the wall were guarded by over a million soldiers.
While several segments preserve the original fortifications, other historic stretches have been rebuilt or restored to replicate their original structure, including the Badaling section, the most famous and visited expanse of the wall located just 43 miles northwest of Beijing.
Today, even though many segments lie in ruins or have disappeared completely, the wall remains the easily the world’s longest man-made structure. Traditionally, the Chinese have honoured it with a name that celebrates it its length: ‘The Long Wall of 10,000 Li,’ with ‘li’ being a traditional Chinese unit of distance. Each li broadly equates to 500 meters — about 6,500 kilometers or just over 4,000 miles — a pretty accurate measurement of this extraordinary edifice.