The Great Wall of China: History and Facts
Built, Destroyed, and Rebuilt
The Great Wall of China, one of the seven wonders of the world, was originally built to protect the northern side of China. It was not created as one continuous job, it actually was worked on and off again for over two thousand years before the entire surface of the wall was finished. The construction began during the Warring States Period (770-256 BC) by the Han Dynasty. Since that period, the wall has been built, destroyed, and rebuilt several times; each time reflects the ups and downs of the Chinese dynasty. Most of what we see today was built during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 AD), although many of the spots where it was built, had original constructions that dated much earlier but were destroyed.
Why Was It Built?
The main reason for building the Great Wall of China was as a defense system. It was vital due to China's constant turbulence throughout history. During early construction of the Great Wall, nomadic groups, as they traveled from place to place, felt entitled to particular areas that were beneficial to them. They would invade and fight for any land that was not immediately handed over. Usually land was most beneficial if it contained easy access to vegetation. In order to get to that vegetation, they would kill whole communities. The Great Wall was then constructed to protect the Chinese people from these early violent nomadic people.
How Was It Constructed?
In order for the Great Wall to be effective as a defense, they needed more than just a thin cement slab blocking against violent intruders, which meant a lot of workers, a lot of tools, and a lot of labor. Often times hauling the tools that would be typical to build such a massive structure was too great, so much of the wall was built with local tools and rocks. The rocks were taken from the very mountains they stood to protect. During the Ming Dynasty, instead of building with rocks, they used bricks that they would bake in a kiln on site of the construction. Other areas, they would use rectangular slabs of stones that were carried by either men or pack animals such as donkeys or goats.
They also needed watch towers, where people could keep watch over the land for trespassers, protect the land, and be able to alert those of a possible attack. Watch towers were built at 1,500 feet intervals throughout the Great Wall. They had strategically placed these to allow the entire length of the Wall to be monitored. The exact number of watch towers is unknown, although we know it was well over ten thousand. During warring times, the watch towers would be manned by bowmen ready for attack. These bowmen also had a system to alert other people when the wall was being approached. These men along with many of the troops lived in the watch towers. They also stored their weapons there for easy access.
Aside from watch towers, there were also many beacon towers. There are three different kinds: one kind were built away from the wall, a second was built attached to it, the third kind built within the Great Wall. In the beacon towers, they served a similar purpose as did the watch towers. Men kept watch and would alert others in case of a war. To alert the soldiers they would send up a smoke signal during the day, and bright fire lights at night. Throughout the wall at regular intervals there are square holes or breaches called crenels. Crenels were used to keep watch for invaders as well as used as a place to shoot from.
Today, the Great Wall no longer serves as a defense system, but rather as an amazing structure that many travel from across the world to view. It is said that the great wall can be seen from space. Although it is a very large structure, this is untrue, because although it is long, it is not wide enough to see. We would be just as likely to see a highway system, as the Great Wall from space.
Today, only 6,300 kilometers is well preserved, most of which was built during the Ming Dynasty. The original great wall was over 7,300 kilometers long. The wall was built wide enough for five horses to canter side by side along the top of it. On average it was seven to eight meters high and six to seven meters wide. This is a little less than a five lane highway. The road portion where people and horse would travel was approximately four to five meters wide.
The highest point that wall reaches is on the ridge of Yanshan Mountain. It rises one thousand meters above sea level and is one of the more famous sections of the Great Wall.The wall itself starts at the Yellow Sea and wraps around the Northern side of China. The video below has some really great pictures of how far the wall reaches.
Secrets of the Great Wall
In Beijing alone, the Great Wall measures 629 km. Beijing has been the nations capital for the past 800 years since the twelfth century; therefore, was a very significant area to protect. This may also be the reason why Beijing is home to the most well preserved portions of the Great Wall. Due to its mountainous terrain, much of the wall is built on the mountain ridges. The section of the Wall that lies in Beijing is often thought of as the most beautiful portion and also one of the most popular among tourists.
Although it is the hope of the nation that the need for such a great tool of defense will never be needed again, it stands today to remind them of the heart and determination of those who came before them. Those who created this fantastic monument will never be forgotten. Today a wall like that would take years to construct, even with our new technology, machines, and vehicles, etc. Imagine the pain and struggle it took to build all 7,300 kilometers of that over and over again, with much of it being constructed by the sweat and tears of thousands of men.
If these walls could talk, they would be able to tell a history of over 2,000 years. They saw the warring times, the peaceful times, death, pain, victory, and joy. Their history is longer than the wall itself, which is why so many people are fascinated by it. Not only do they have the stories of the war, but of the men who built it.
- "Beijing Great Wall." China Odyssey Tours. Accessed February 28, 2018. http://www.chinaodysseytours.com/beijing/beijing-great-wall.html.
- "Great Wall of China." Travel China Guide. Accessed February 28, 2010. https://www.travelchinaguide.com/china_great_wall/.
© 2010 Angela Michelle Schultz