WHS: The Great Wall, China

And today, we’re bringing to you possibly the most iconic — and definitively, the longest — construction on the planet, World Heritage Site, New 7 Wonder, and general emblem of Chinese civilization:

The Great Wall

The Great Wall

 

The Great Wall was continuously built from the 3rd century BC to the 17th century AD on the northern border of the country as the great military defence project of successive Chinese Empires, with a total length of more than 20,000 kilometers. The Great Wall begins in the east at Shanhaiguan in Hebei province and ends at Jiayuguan in Gansu province to the west. Its main body consists of walls, horse tracks, watch towers, and shelters on the wall, and includes fortresses and passes along the Wall.

The Great Wall reflects collision and exchanges between agricultural civilizations and nomadic civilizations in ancient China. It provides significant physical evidence of the far-sighted political strategic thinking and mighty military and national defence forces of central empires in ancient China, and is an outstanding example of the superb military architecture, technology and art of ancient China. It embodies unparalleled significance as the national symbol for safeguarding the security of the country and its people…

And just how long is THE WALL?

The Great Wall stretches from Dandong in the east, to Lop Lake in the west, along an arc that roughly delineates the southern edge of Inner Mongolia. A comprehensive archaeological survey, using advanced technologies, has concluded that the Ming walls measure 8,850 km (5,500 mi). This is made up of 6,259 km (3,889 mi) sections of actual wall, 359 km (223 mi) of trenches and 2,232 km (1,387 mi) of natural defensive barriers such as hills and rivers. Another archaeological survey found that the entire wall with all of its branches measure out to be 21,196 km (13,171 mi).

Pretty sure there’s no other human construction that comes within an order of magnitude of that. When Chinese decide to build, they build hard.

Although we went through Dandong on our way to North Korea, we didn’t stop to see that end of THE WALL. Have to go back and do that sometime, then follow it all the way to the end ticking off Silk Road sites along the way. That would be an epic trip indeed.

In the meantime, we ticked this one off the most conveniently efficient way possible; we took one of the scads of day tours from Beijing that visit the Ming Tombs in the morning and take you to the Badaling section of THE WALL in the afternoon.

Yes, yes, that’s the most touristy and crowded section … but that’s because it is the best preserved and arguably most scenic section, and we see no reason to sneer at popular touristy sites simply because they’re touristy.

The Great Wall

Probably that’s because we spend so much time wandering around hunting down obscure and ignored tentative sites, a simple visit with overflowing service and support on the level of being dropped at the cable car station is a welcome relief, really.

Of course, the downside of that overflowing service is readily apparent too:

The Great Wall

But the crowds thin out pretty quickly as you walk a bit, and you get the splendid vistas just like in the brochures:

The Great Wall

Pro tip: Bring lots of water. Hiking these huge steep steps in the heat is a trial.

The Great Wall

But worth it, every bit of it. There really isn’t anything quite like this anywhere else, this ribbon of stone roiling across the mountain ranges:

The Great Wall

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So yep, on the list of places that sound overrated but actually aren’t, we’d put THE WALL as one that justifiably deserves all its reputation and more. At the very least, make sure you spare a day in Beijing for a daytrip like we did!

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Alex Curylo

Alex

I go places.

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