The Great Wall in China is a series of stone and earthen fortifications in northern China, built originally to protect the northern borders of the Chinese Empire against intrusions by various nomadic groups. Several walls have been built since the 5th century BC that are referred to collectively as the Great Wall, which has been rebuilt and maintained from the 5th century BC through the 16th century. One of the most famous is the wall built between 220–206 BC by the first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang. Little of that wall remains; the majority of the existing wall was built during the Ming Dynasty.
The Great Wall stretches from Shanhaiguan in the east, to Lop Lake in the west, along an arc that roughly delineates the southern edge of Inner Mongolia. The most comprehensive archaeological survey, using advanced technologies, has concluded that all the walls measure 8,851.8 km (5,500.3 mi). This is made up of 6,259.6 km (3,889.5 mi) sections of actual wall, 359.7 km (223.5 mi) of trenches and 2,232.5 km (1,387.2 mi) of natural defensive barriers such as hills and rivers.
The Great Wall in China (长城 Chángchéng) stretches from Liaoning Province through Hebei Province, Tianjin Municipality, Beijing Municipality, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, Shanxi Province, Shaanxi Province, and Ningxia Autonomous Region to Gansu Province within the country of China.
Great Wall in China Map:
The Great Wall of China Facts:
Name: the Great Wall of China / the Great Wall (长城Cháng Chéng /channg-chnng/)
Meaning: ‘Long Wall’
Other name: the 10,000-Li-Long Wall (万里长城Wàn Lǐ Cháng Chéng /wann lee channg chnng/)
Meaning: ‘the 5,000-Kilometer-Long Wall’
The longest fortification ever built
To defend the Chinese Empire from Mongolian and Manchu enemies to the north.
China’s biggest and most popular tourist attraction.
Provinces and municipalities crossed:
Liaoning, Hebei, Tianjin, Beijing, Shanxi, Shaanxi, Ningxia, Gansu
From Shanhai Pass (39.96N, 119.80E) to Jiayu Pass (39.85N, 97.54E). Straight line distance: 1900 km (1200 mi). Most popular sections are around Beijing.
Great Wall of China Size:
8,851.8 km (5,500.3 mi)
Actual wall: 6,259.6 km (3,889.5 mi)
Trenches: 359.7 km (223.5 mi)
Natural barriers: 2,232.5 km (1,387.2 mi)
Closest section to Beijing:
Juyong Pass (55 km or 34 mi)
Most visited section:
Badaling (63,000,000 visitors in 2001)
Mostly mountainous, taking advantage of natural obstacles. From the Bohai coast at Qinhuangdao, around the north of the Great Plain of China, across the Loess Plateau, and along the desert corridor of Gansu between the Plateau of Tibet and the loess hills of Inner Mongolia.
From sea level to over 500 meters (1,600 feet)
Climate of Great Wall:
Northern China has all four seasons and they arrive with a vengeance. Summer and winter temperatures normally reach extremes of over 40 degrees Celsius and -20 degrees Celsius respectively.
Best time to visit the Great Wall:
Beijing sections: spring or autumn.
Jiayu Pass: May to October.
Shanhai Pass: summer and early autumn.
The world’s longest wall and biggest ancient architecture
A stunning array of scenery:
From the beaches of Qinhuangdao, to rugged mountains around Beijing, to a desert corridor between tall mountain ranges at Jiayu Pass.
Most Popular Sections:
Badaling, Mutianyu, Simatai, Jinshanling, Jiayu Pass, Shanhai Pass (Old Dragon Head)
Understand of the Great Wall:
The Great Wall in China can be visited at many places along its length of several thousand kilometers. Its condition ranges from excellent to ruined and access from straightforward to quite difficult. Note that different sections also each have their own admission fees, e.g. if you want to hike from Jinshaling to Simatai then you probably have to pay twice.
Great Wall of China Weather:
History of Great Wall of China:
The Great Wall, as we know it, is actually a series of several walls built at different times by different emperors.
First Great wall – built by the Qin Dynasty 221-207 BC
Second Great Wall – built by the Han Dynasty 205-127 BC
Third Great Wall – built by the Jin Dynasty 1200 AD
Fourth Great Wall – built by the Ming Dynasty 1367-1644
First Great Wall:
The First Great Wall was ordered built in 214 BC by Qin Shih Huang Ti after he had finished consolidating his rule and creating a unified China for the first time. The wall was designed to stop raids by the Xiongnu raiders from the north. 500,000 laborers were used during the 32 year building period to create the First Great Wall.
Although the wall worked at keeping out enemies, it did nothing to stop internal pressures which lead to a regime change in 206 BC and the new leadership of the Han Dynasty. The first Han emperor, Taizong, was quick to see the benefits of the wall against the raiders and ordered more wall to stretch out as far as Zhaoxiang, Gansu Province.
Second Great Wall:
Over 70 years later, the Han Dynasty were still fighting the raiders since the Great Wall had been left to deteriorate and the raiders had breached it in several places. In 130 BC, Emperor Wudi of the Han Dynasty embarked on a program of extending, rebuilding and fortifying the original First Great Wall. After the emperor finished adding more regions under his rule in 127 BC, he ordered a major expansion program that created the Second Great Wall, outposts in Zhangye, Wuwei, Jiuquan, Dunhuang and Yumenguan in Gansu Province and Lopnor and other outposts in Xinjiang Province. The Great Wall was extended down the Hexi Corridor through which the Silk Road traders would travel on the way to and from the West.
When the Han Dynasty fell apart into the three kingdoms of the Wei, Shu and Wu, the northern Wei kingdom decided to continue maintaining the Great Wall so that they could keep out the Rouran and Qidan nomads from the northern plains. Despite the constant maintenance, the Wall kept being breached by the Rouran nomads. Additional walls were built inside and outside of the Great Wall by the different kingdoms. Eventually the Wei kingdom merged with the unifying Sui kingdom and was overthrown by the Tang Dynasty in 618 AD.
Nothing more was done to the Great Wall until the reign of the Liao and Song dynasties. The Liao Dynasty controlled the north while the Song Dynasty controlled the south. The Liao were troubled mainly by a tribe in the northeast region of China called the Nuzhen (known as Manchu in Mandarin) so they built defensive walls along the Heilong and Songhua rivers. These failed to stop the raiders from coming south.
Third Great Wall:
In 1115, the Nuzhen established the Jin Dynasty and since they were from the north themselves, understood that the Mongols were right behind them. The Jin emperor ordered the construction of a Third Great Wall to be built in Heilongjiang Province and Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. The walls built had the characteristics of having ditches running along the walls full length.
Despite the impressive fortifications built, the Mongols overthrew the Jin in 1276 and established the Yuan Dynasty. During the Yuan dynasties rule, the Wall fell into deep disrepair and in 1368, the Chinese Ming Dynasty walked right in and took control.
The Ming Dynasty, after getting rid of the Mongols, determined that they would never be taken again by outsiders. The first emperor of the Ming Dynasty, Hongwu, re-established manning of the Great Wall, fortresses and garrisons were built along the wall, and the fort at Jiayuguan was built in 1372 at the western end of the wall. The second Ming emperor, Yongle, turned his focus outward from the empire and sent out explorers and diplomats into the big, wide world.
Fourth Great Wall:
It was not until the battle of Tumu against the Mongols that renewed interest in reinforcing the Great Wall occurred. Between 1569 and 1583, the most well-known parts of the Great Wall were built, the Fourth Great Wall. The reinforced wall managed to repel Mongols several times.
The Manchu retook China in 1644 and formed the Qing Dynasty. From this point on, the Wall slowly started to fade away while stone and rocks were taken from the Wall for building projects and homes. The Cultural Revolution definitely took its toll out on the wall when local people and local governments were encouraged to help dismantle the Great Wall.
It was not until 1984 that President Deng Xiaoping started a restoration and protection project of the Great Wall. In 1987, the Great Wall was declared a World Cultural Heritage Site by UNESCO.
The geography of Northern China ranges from mountainous in northeast Liaoning and Hebei Provinces, through the grasslands of Ningxia, semi-arid desert of China’s loess plateau, and borders the sand dunes of the Tengger desert of Inner Mongolia. It is the area around Hebei and Beijing that most people associate with the Great Wall, but most of the Great Wall lies in the desert regions of the country.
Flora and fauna:
Chinese wildlife is diverse, considering all of the different habitats available along the length of the Great Wall. From the rare Siberian tiger in the northeast to the protected and rare Giant Panda which lives in southern Gansu, Sichuan, and Shaanxi, you never know what you might see on a given day.
Wild mammals can be found in the north, such as the Manchurian weasel, brown and black bears, northern pika, and mandarin vole. Deer species include Sitka deer, roe deer and the long-sought-after spotted deer, which has many uses in Chinese medicine.
The birds of the region include various pheasants, black grouse, pine grosbeak, various woodpeckers, mandarin duck, and the fairy pitta, a rare migratory bird. Cranes are especially revered in China. Common, demoiselle, white-napes, hooded, and red-crowned cranes all breed in China.
You can find many tonic plants along the Great Wall, such as the rare ginseng (Panax ginseng). Chinese medicine has had many thousands of years to discover and use these tonic plants for the benefit of mankind.
Some of the following sections are in Beijing municipality, which were renovated and which are regularly visited by modern tourists today.
- “North Pass” of Juyongguan pass, known as the Badaling. When used by the Chinese to protect their land, this section of the wall has had many guards to defend China’s capital Beijing. Made of stone and bricks from the hills, this portion of the Great Wall is 7.8 meters (26 ft) high and 5 meters (16 ft) wide.
- “West Pass” of Jiayuguan (pass). This fort is near the western edges of the Great Wall.
- “Pass” of Shanhaiguan. This fort is near the eastern edges of the Great Wall.
- One of the most striking sections of the Ming Great Wall is where it climbs extremely steep slopes. It runs 11 kilometers (6.8 mi) long, ranges from 5 to 8 meters (16–26 ft) in height, and 6 meters (20 ft) across the bottom, narrowing up to 5 meters (16 ft) across the top. Wangjinglou is one of Jinshanling’s 67 watchtowers, 980 meters (3,220 ft) above sea level.
- South East of Jinshanling, is the Mutianyu Great Wall which winds along lofty, cragged mountains from the southeast to the northwest for approximately 2.25 kilometers (about 1.3 miles). It is connected with Juyongguan Pass to the west and Gubeikou to the east.
- 25 km (16 mi) west of the Liao Tian Ling stands apart of Great Wall which is only 2~3 stories high. According to the records of Lin Tian, the wall was not only extremely short compared to others, but it appears to be silver. Archeologists explain that the wall appears to be silver because the stone they used were from Shan Xi, where many mines are found. The stone contains extremely high levels of metal in it causing it to appear silver. However, due to years of decay of the Great Wall, it is hard to see the silver part of the wall today.
Another notable section lies near the eastern extremity of the wall, where the first pass of the Great Wall was built on the Shanhaiguan (known as the “Number One Pass Under Heaven”). 3 km north of Shanhaiguan is Jiaoshan Great Wall, the site of the first mountain of the Great Wall. 15 km northeast from Shanhaiguan, is the Jiumenkou, which is the only portion of the wall that was built as a bridge.
Before the use of bricks, the Great Wall was mainly built from rammed earth, stones, and wood. During the Ming Dynasty, however, bricks were heavily used in many areas of the wall, as were materials such as tiles, lime, and stone. The size and weight of the bricks made them easier to work with than earth and stone, so construction quickened. Additionally, bricks could bear more weight and endure better than rammed earth. Stone can hold under its own weight better than brick, but is more difficult to use. Consequently, stones cut in rectangular shapes were used for the foundation, inner and outer brims, and gateways of the wall. Battlements line the uppermost portion of the vast majority of the wall, with defensive gaps a little over 30 cm (12 in) tall, and about 23 cm (9.1 in) wide.
|Great Wall in China|
While some portions north of Beijing and near tourist centers have been preserved and even extensively renovated, in many locations the Wall is in disrepair. Those parts might serve as a village playground or a source of stones to rebuild houses and roads. Sections of the Wall are also prone to graffiti and vandalism. Parts have been destroyed because the Wall is in the way of construction.
More than 60 km (37 mi) of the wall in Gansu province may disappear in the next 20 years, due to erosion from sandstorms. In places, the height of the wall has been reduced from more than five meters (16.4 ft) to less than two meters. The square lookout towers that characterize the most famous images of the wall have disappeared completely. Many western sections of the wall are constructed from mud, rather than brick and stone, and thus are more susceptible to erosion.
Watchtowers and barracks:
Communication between the army units along the length of the Great Wall, including the ability to call reinforcements and warn garrisons of enemy movements, was of high importance. Signal towers were built upon hill tops or other high points along the wall for their visibility.
Great Wall of China From Space:
Visibility from the moon:
One of the earliest known references to this myth appears in a letter written in 1754 by the English antiquary William Stukeley. Stukeley wrote that, “This mighty wall of four score miles in length (Hadrian’s Wall) is only exceeded by the Chinese Wall, which makes a considerable figure upon the terrestrial globe, and may be discerned at the moon.” The claim was also mentioned by Henry Norman in 1895 where he states “besides its age it enjoys the reputation of being the only work of human hands on the globe visible from the moon.” The issue of “canals” on Mars was prominent in the late 19th century and may have led to the belief that long, thin objects were visible from space. The claim that the Great Wall is visible also appears in 1932’s Ripley’s Believe it or Not strip and in Richard Halliburton’s 1938 book Second Book of Marvels.
The claim the Great Wall is visible has been debunked many times, but is still ingrained in popular culture. The wall is a maximum 9.1 m (30 ft) wide, and is about the same color as the soil surrounding it. Based on the optics of resolving power (distance versus the width of the iris: a few millimeters for the human eye, meters for large telescopes) only an object of reasonable contrast to its surroundings which is 70 mi (110 km) or more in diameter (1 arc-minute) would be visible to the unaided eye from the moon, whose average distance from Earth is 384,393 km (238,851 mi). The apparent width of the Great Wall from the moon is the same as that of a human hair viewed from 2 miles (3.2 km) away. To see the wall from the moon would require spatial resolution 17,000 times better than normal (20/20) vision. Unsurprisingly, no lunar astronaut has ever claimed to have seen the Great Wall from the moon.
Visibility from low earth orbit:
A more controversial question is whether the Wall is visible from low earth orbit (an altitude of as little as 100 miles (160 km)). NASA claims that it is barely visible, and only under nearly perfect conditions; it is no more conspicuous than many other man-made objects. Other authors have argued that due to limitations of the optics of the eye and the spacing of photoreceptors on the retina, it is impossible to see the wall with the naked eye, even from low orbit, and would require visual acuity of 20/3 (7.7 times better than normal).
Astronaut William Pogue thought he had seen it from Skylab but discovered he was actually looking at the Grand Canal of China near Beijing. He spotted the Great Wall with binoculars, but said that “it wasn’t visible to the unaided eye.” U.S. Senator Jake Garn claimed to be able to see the Great Wall with the naked eye from a space shuttle orbit in the early 1980s, but his claim has been disputed by several U.S. astronauts. Veteran U.S. astronaut Gene Cernan has stated: “At Earth orbit of 100 miles (160 km) to 200 miles (320 km) high, the Great Wall of China is, indeed, visible to the naked eye.” Ed Lu, Expedition 7 Science Officer aboard the International Space Station, adds that, “it’s less visible than a lot of other objects. And you have to know where to look.”
In 2001, Neil Armstrong stated about the view from Apollo 11: “I do not believe that, at least with my eyes, there would be any man-made object that I could see. I have not yet found somebody who has told me they’ve seen the Wall of China from Earth orbit. …I’ve asked various people, particularly Shuttle guys, that have been many orbits around China in the daytime, and the ones I’ve talked to didn’t see it.”
In October 2003, Chinese astronaut Yang Liwei stated that he had not been able to see the Great Wall of China. In response, the European Space Agency (ESA) issued a press release reporting that from an orbit between 160 and 320 km, the Great Wall is visible to the naked eye. In an attempt to further clarify things, the ESA published a picture of a part of the “Great Wall” photographed from Space. However, in a press release a week later (no longer available in the ESA’s website), they acknowledged that the “Great Wall” in the picture was actually a river.
Leroy Chiao, a Chinese-American astronaut, took a photograph from the International Space Station that shows the wall. It was so indistinct that the photographer was not certain he had actually captured it. Based on the photograph, the China Daily later reported that the Great Wall can be seen from space with the naked eye, under favorable viewing conditions, if one knows exactly where to look. However, the resolution of a camera can be much higher than the human visual system, and the optics much better, rendering photographic evidence irrelevant to the issue of whether it is visible to the naked eye.
Place to See:
As the Great Wall of China is rather on the long side, there are a large number of places to visit it. The following list is divided by province/municipality.
The most popular sites can be visited in one day starting from Beijing.
- Badaling and Juyongguan are nearest Beijing, and these two are among the most crowded sections of the Great Wall. On the weekdays, Badaling is not too crowded, and it is the easiest to reach affordably, ie without hiring a taxi. From the Southwest corner of Tiananmen Square, take the number 5 bus (1 RMB public bus) to the last stop. Or even easier, get off at Jishuitan subway station line 2 and walk east on the north side of the road to the bus station. Take bus number 919 (12 RMB one way, 4.80 RMB one way with pre-paid card, air conditioned coach bus) to Badaling. The last bus from Beijing to Badaling leaves at around 12:00, the last bus from Badaling to Beijing at around 16:00. For the ride back, better arrive half an hour early if you want to sit down during the 1-hour drive!
There are many different 919 buses. The one to Badaling is at the very rear (farthest east) of the station. Be very wary of men in blue jackets posing as transit workers. They will lie all the way up to the bus door (and in front of real transit workers) by saying there are no more buses, it is the wrong bus, or that they are overpriced, etc. and try to get unknowing passengers to take their overpriced taxi and/or shuttle. The real transit workers around the area will be of no help (as they may be taking a cut), so you must ask the ticket giver directly on the bus if it is the correct bus. It will be only 12RMB.
You can also take a 919 home for 12 RMB, which means that you can stay as long as you like. Alternatively, take the train from Beijing North Station (14 RMB one way for hard seat, which is still nicer than most airplanes, with plenty of leg room). But make sure to call ahead or check online for the times as they change often.
For those that like to travel by train, a relatively underused way of travelling to the Badaling great wall is via a train from Beijing North Station. There is surprisingly very little information on train schedule, so do a lot of research ahead of time. The schedule posted on seat61 seems to be pretty safe. This allows you time to visit the wall at your own leisure, bypassing the need to go to the Ming Tombs and random stores. The train has very large viewing windows, allowing you breathtaking views of the scenery and the great wall even before you arrive at Badaling. There are two classes of seats, one with 5 seats in a row and first class seats (20 yuan each way when we rode on the train April 2011) with 4 seats in a row and slightly more comfortable seats. If you’re traveling cheap just get the 2nd class seats and hang out in the nearly empty dining car, which has a couple of comfortable booths with tables. Buy tickets in advance at any of the major Beijing stations (North, West, South East) in case you’re taking the 9:33 train to Badaling. Upon arrival at Badaling station you’ll need to make a left turn and walk 800m to the great wall entrance.
The hike is still a challenge with plenty of steep hills, so once you get a bit into the wall the crowd thins quickly. On weekdays, there aren’t any vendors chasing you on the wall; they stay in the little town area. In addition, there are Sun Bears that you can feed carrots to for 3 RMB in the little town. Don’t take the 100 RMB tours that people offer you outside the Forbidden City or at Tiananmen Square – you only get 2 hours at the wall, and then you go to the Ming Tombs (read: big hill) and have to eat lunch; in addition, they can cancel the bus on you, they don’t leave until the bus is full, and you have to stay with your tour group (with the loud mega phone and all) in order to get back to the city.
- Mutianyu is slightly further than Badaling, equally well restored, significantly less crowded, and has a bit greener of surroundings. It has a ski lift to get onto and off the wall (though walking via stairs is also possible) and a toboggan ride down! Misplaced, but fun. However, it’s easiest reached via taxi. The only direct bus to the Mutinyau Great Wall section is the 867 that, as of 11 September 2011 departs at 7 and 8:30 AM from the Dongzhimen outer bus station which you can get to by turning left out of the main bus station (arrive at Donzhimen subway, take “H” exit) and going for a 10 minute walk round the other side until you see a parking lot full of buses on your right. To make it clear the 867 is not numbered when you come up the stairs from the subway. It is a totally seperate bus terminal outside the main building. This is where the 867 leaves from, it is not easy to find and you will be hawked heavily by private taxi’s and mini buses. It costs ¥16 each way. Also it’s possible to use 936 and 916 that runs after that time and the will take you only to the city of Huairou which is 17km away from the wall and around 60km from Beijing. From there you have to take a taxi (50 RMB). Be aware that it is likely that taxi drivers in league with the bus driver (who may be on the bus from Dongzhimen) will try and get you to come off the bus at the wrong stop in order to ensure that you take their taxi. Also beware of people that offer to help you at Dongzhimen, that are in league with the taxi drivers and will point you to the wrong bus (980, for example), and you will end up having to backtrack to Huairou and pay double for the taxi (Great wall trek China expeditions is known to do this). 5th November 2011- The bus driver of the 916, stopped a packed bus in middle of Huairou and tried to get us off the bus and then got his friend onto the bus in an attempt to get us off it. The correct stop is the next stop just after the roundabout (which you’ll go right at).
The actual bus stop Huairou Beije is not a bus terminal or anything with a ‘Great Wall’ on it – just a normal street bus stop. When you get off the bus you need to cross the road as your going in the opposite direction. (you will see a large roundabout your going straight through this). The hawking is unbearable and extreme so be prepared. We waited at the bus stop for 45 mins on a Saturday (which is not sign posted with the correct number for the wall either. Finally we gave in and haggled a mini bus down to 5RMB each (3 of us). We got the 867 back to Beijing which takes 2hrs 45mins but is not stressful. This is coordinates on google maps of where the bus will drop you off – 40.33492,116.628322.
Prices vary around ¥30 per person for a return trip with waiting 2h, plus ¥5 for the parking when going out. For the return journey, the 867 leaves at 2.00pm and 4.00pm from parking lot 3 – the same place it dropped you off at Mutianyu if you caught it in the morning. Note that on Sunday 4:00 PM bus might be really crowded. It is an official looking bus with a number on it so don’t be fooled by any other drivers (e.g. minibuses) who try and steal your business. Also, do not be fooled by any taxi drivers who say “no bus!”. Mutianyu is magnificent. New entrance fee is ¥45, ¥25 for students only with ID containing a photo. Besides that, the cable car to the wall costs more than the wall entrance: ¥65 for adults and ¥45 for children, alternatively the 15 min. walk uphill through the beautiful park and forest is free. If you’re not afraid of walking through some shrubbery, and you’ve got some grip on your shoes, continue on past the restored section and head to the highest local watchtower. You will be greatly rewarded for your effort!
The last buses to Beijing Dongzhimen from Huairou city are the 936 at 17:00 while the service of the 916 ends at 19:00. Without the Beijing transportation card (that you can purchase at any metro station) the price is 16RMB but with the electronic card excpect to pay less than 5RMB. See the details about the card on in the Beijing “Get around” section.
If you miss the bus, there is accomodation to be found near the shops in Huairou. There is a tourist information office that remains open during normal office hours, though it may seem closed due to lack of visitors. They will be able to help you find accomodation that is licensed to take foreigners, should you need it. The nearby “Yanxi Nightless Valley” area is full of small forest resorts, where you can pay around 100 RMB for a fresh, farmed trout. Stay in the valley the night before, then hire a taxi out direct to one of the nearby Great Wall sections in the morning.
- Huanghuacheng one of the most well built sections of the Great Wall that caused the beheading of Lord Cai, the builder, for mismanagement and waste
- Gubeikou, Jinshanling and Simatai are a bit farther from Beijing than other sections, but the extra time it takes to get there is rewarded with a very significant reduction in crowding and tourist traps. Services are also limited, however; make sure you bring your own supply of water and extra film. The most authentic part of the wall is at Simatai; the wall here is of original construction unlike Badaling. These three locations are 80 miles northeast of Beijing. As of June 17, 2010, the section at Simatai is closed for repairs (probably for at least 2 years).
Simatai is closed but you can still sleep on its section and do the trek from Simatai to Jinshanling.
Hebei and Tianjin
- Shanhaiguan, at the Old Dragon’s Head, the wall juts out into the sea. To get there from Beijing takes about 3 hours by train.
- Panjiakou Reservoir – sunken part of the Great Wall
- Huangyaguan – worth a visit for its water run-off controls, well-preserved towers, challenging hiking and striking scenery
- Hushan – can be explored from Dandong
- Xingcheng – a Ming dynasty walled town
- Jiumenkou – located 18 km east of “The First Pass Under Heaven’ at Shanhaiguan
- The Outer Wall of Shanxi – Li’erkou to Deshengbu, Juqiangbu to Laoniuwan, and along the Yellow River
- The Inner Wall of Shanxi – Yanmenguan, Guangwu Old City, Ningwu Pass and Niangziguan
Yulin and Shenmu – garrison towns in the time of the Ming dynasty
- The Eastern Ningxia Wall – Hongshan Castle and Water Cave Gully (Shui Dong Gou)
- The Northern Ningxia Wall – in the area of Helanshan
- The Western Ningxia Wall – Zhenbeibu and Sanguankou
- Wuwei – garrison town
- Minqin – oasis town
- Zhangye – garrison headquarters
- Jiayuguan – Fort at Jiayu Pass, nicknamed “Last Fort Under Heaven”
- Lanzhou – former walled town that now is capital of Gansu Province
What to do at Great Wall:
- Hike from Jinshanling to Simatai The majority of the wall east of Jinshanling is also unrestored. The hike from Jinshangling to Simatai is roughly 10km. It is a significant hike in distance but more so in the elevation change, but you will be rewarded with spectacular views and a good day of exercise. Expect to spend anywhere from 2.5 hours to 6 hours on the wall, depending on your fitness level, ambition and frequency of photo ops. When you are half way between the two sections, there are hardly any tourists. In fact, more foreign tourists are seen doing this thorough hike than domestic Chinese tourists. Comfortable shoes and clothes are needed, as you will be hiking on moving bricks sometimes combined with steep climbs. Water and snacks should be in your backpack. But you will find some local vendors selling water and sometimes snacks on the wall. When you descend down from Simatai, there is a zip line available for RMB40. It’s roughly 400m, and is over a river. It will take you down to the other side of the river, and includes a short boat ride back to catch your ground transport. During the middle of this hike, collectors will charge you again because you are entering another part of the Wall. If you are going between sections, there is little you can do about it other than turn back. As of June 2010, the Simatai section is closed for repairs, so you can only hike to the western end and then have to turn back.
- Visit the Great Wall Museum Down the “Badaling Pedestrian Street” and up a hill behind the “Circle Vision Theater” is the under-appreciated Great Wall Museum. The walk-through exhibits provide a good overview of the wall’s multi-dynasty history, along with many artifacts from those time periods and photo-worthy models of watchtowers, scaling ladders, etc. The bathrooms are also probably the cleanest you’ll find at Badaling (there’s even a Western-style toilet). Best of all, admission is free!
- Downhill on the toboggan run The Mutianyu section offers two chairlift lines which run to different parts of the Great Wall section, a more modern one with bubble cabins and a less modern one with two-seater chairs. If you feel up to it and the weather is clear, the return ticket for the less modern lift is also good for a ride down the toboggan run. Though if you prefer, tickets can easily be purchased separately for the toboggan ride of course – just walk up to the ticket office at the beginning of the ride, then off you go down the wall. Note that the tickets for the lifts cost the same but are not interchangeable. If you can’t read chinese check the picture on the ticket, and if you get wrong one with a picture of the bubble cabins, it’s not a problem to immediately get your money back and take it to the other ticket counter.
Bring a jacket against the wind or cold in the chillier seasons. In summer you will need lots of water, but there are plenty of vendors at the most visited sections. Be prepared for the possibility of sudden, short, but rather violent thunderstorms.
Do not leave any trace of your visit. Even if it is not an uncommon sight, resist the urge to add your name to the carvings in the wall, or take a piece home as a souvenir. If the wall should be damaged by your actions, the authorities may very well take action with fines and other punishments.
Hiking as a recreational sport is not well understood yet in China so the etiquette of crossing state and private land has not yet been established. Remember that the Wall is mostly mud and poorly supported stones, and that you are on your own if you’re outside the maintained areas. Even if you are not walking on the wall, you will find few trails to follow and at some parts, the area the Wall traverses are vertical, treacherous and very unsafe. Besides that, it is difficult to obtain clean drinking water and some areas may even have no water at all. Other areas will have manmade obstacles, like roads and motorways that have solid fencing. Villages where you could get supplies may be few and far between. Some may take you miles away from the Wall. Poor cartography is still a problem here since maps of less than 1:450,000 are not easy to get a hold of due to the military applications of such maps. Besides that, guides who know the areas along the Great Wall are few and far between. The last item to think about regarding hiking the Great Wall is that China has no system of mountain/wilderness rescue personnel. You will be on your own should something happen to you.
Scams – Beware of bus scams that may ruin your day. Also try to avoid organized tours to the Great Wall costing 100-150 Yuan. These are advertised by people handing out flyers around the Forbidden City in Beijing for example (the real bus service to the Great Wall only costs 20 Yuan!). Also, the driver might just stop and set you off before your destination.
Great Wall of China History:
The early walls:
The Chinese were already familiar with the techniques of wall-building by the time of the Spring and Autumn Period, which began around the 8th century BC. During the Warring States Period from the 5th century BCE to 221 BCE, the states of Qin, Wei, Zhao, Qi, Yan and Zhongshan all constructed extensive fortifications to defend their own borders. Built to withstand the attack of small arms such as swords and spears, these walls were made mostly by stamping earth and gravel between board frames.
Qin Shi Huang conquered all opposing states and unified China in 221 BCE, establishing the Qin Dynasty. Intending to impose centralized rule and prevent the resurgence of feudal lords, he ordered the destruction of the wall sections that divided his empire along the former state borders. To protect the empire against intrusions by the Xiongnu people from the north, he ordered the building of a new wall to connect the remaining fortifications along the empire’s new northern frontier. Transporting the large quantity of materials required for construction was difficult, so builders always tried to use local resources. Stones from the mountains were used over mountain ranges, while rammed earth was used for construction in the plains. There are no surviving historical records indicating the exact length and course of the Qin Dynasty walls. Most of the ancient walls have eroded away over the centuries, and very few sections remain today. The human cost of the construction is unknown, but it has been estimated by some authors that hundreds of thousands, if not up to a million, workers died building the Qin wall. Later, the Han, Sui, and Northern dynasties all repaired, rebuilt, or expanded sections of the Great Wall at great cost to defend themselves against northern invaders. The Tang and Song Dynasties did not build any walls in the region. The Liao, Jin, and Yuan dynasties, who ruled Northern China throughout most of the 10-13th centuries, had their original power bases north of the Great Wall proper; accordingly, they would have no need throughout most of their history to build a wall along this line. The Liao carried out limited repair of the Great Wall in a few areas, however the Jin did construct defensive walls in the 12th century, but those were located much to the north of the Great Wall as we know it, within today’s Inner and Outer Mongolia.
The Ming era:
The Great Wall concept was revived again during the Ming Dynasty in the 14th century, and following the Ming army’s defeat by the Oirats in the Battle of Tumu in 1449. The Ming had failed to gain a clear upper hand over the Manchurian and Mongolian tribes after successive battles, and the long-drawn conflict was taking a toll on the empire. The Ming adopted a new strategy to keep the nomadic tribes out by constructing walls along the northern border of China. Acknowledging the Mongol control established in the Ordos Desert, the wall followed the desert’s southern edge instead of incorporating the bend of the Huang He.
Unlike the earlier Qin fortifications, the Ming construction was stronger and more elaborate due to the use of bricks and stone instead of rammed earth. As Mongol raids continued periodically over the years, the Ming devoted considerable resources to repair and reinforce the walls. Sections near the Ming capital of Beijing were especially strong.
During the 1440s–1460s, the Ming also built a so-called “Liaodong Wall”. Similar in function to the Great Wall (whose extension, in a sense, it was), but more basic in construction, the Liaodong Wall enclosed the agricultural heartland of the Liaodong province, protecting it against potential incursions by Jurched-Mongol Oriyanghan from the northwest and the Jianzhou Jurchens from the north. While stones and tiles were used in some parts of the Liaodong Wall, most of it was in fact simply an earth dike with moats on both sides.
Towards the end of the Ming Dynasty, the Great Wall helped defend the empire against the Manchu invasions that began around 1600. Even after the loss of all of Liaodong, the Ming army under the command of Yuan Chonghuan held off the Manchus at the heavily fortified Shanhaiguan pass, preventing the Manchus from entering the Chinese heartland. The Manchus were finally able to cross the Great Wall in 1644, after Beijing had fallen to Li Zicheng’s rebels, and the gates at Shanhaiguan were opened by the commanding Ming general Wu Sangui, who hoped to use the Manchus to expel the rebels from Beijing. The Manchus quickly seized Beijing, and defeated both the rebel-founded Shun Dynasty and the remaining Ming resistance, establishing the Qing Dynasty rule over all of China.
In 2009, an additional 290 km (180 mi) of previously undetected portions of the wall, built during the Ming Dynasty, were discovered. The newly discovered sections range from the Hushan mountains in the northern Liaoning province, to Jiayuguan in western Gansu province. The sections had been submerged over time by sandstorms which moved across the arid region.
Under Qing rule, China’s borders extended beyond the walls and Mongolia was annexed into the empire, so construction and repairs on the Great Wall were discontinued. On the other hand, the so-called Willow Palisade, following a line similar to that of the Ming Liaodong Wall, was constructed by the Qing rulers in Manchuria. Its purpose, however, was not defense but rather migration control.
Early Western reports of the wall:
The North African traveler Ibn Battuta, who was in Guangzhou ca. 1346, inquired among the local Muslims about the wall that, according to the Qur’an, Dhul-Qarnayn had built to contain Gog and Magog. Ibn Battuta reported that the wall was “sixty days’ travel” from the city of Zeitun (Quanzhou); Hamilton Alexander Rosskeen Gibb noted Ibn Battuta has confused the Great Wall of China with that built by Dhul-Qarnayn. This indicated that Arabs may have heard about China’s Great Wall during earlier periods of China’s history, and associated it with the Gog and Magog wall of the Qur’an. But, in any event, no one of Ibn Battuta’s Guangzhou interlocutors had seen the wall or knew anyone who had seen it, which implies that by the late Yuan the existence of the Great Wall was not in the people’s living memory, at least not in the Muslim communities in Guangzhou.
Soon after Europeans reached the Ming China in the early 16th century, accounts of the Great Wall started to circulate in Europe, even though no European was to see it with his own eyes for another century. Possibly the earliest description of the wall, and its significance for the defense of the country against the “Tartars” (i.e. Mongols), may be the one contained in the Third Década of João de Barros’ Asia (published 1563). Interestingly, Barros himself did not travel to Asia, but was able to use Chinese books brought to Lisbon by Portuguese traders. One of the earliest records of a Western traveler entering China via a Great Wall pass (Jiayuguan, in this case) may be that of the Portuguese Jesuit brother Bento de Góis, who had reached China’s north-western gate from India in 1605.