Great Wall

Great Wall


Visit places:

Jiayu Guam

Badaling & Juyong Guan

Mutianyu & Huanghua Cheng




Description of the Great Wall of China

The Great Wall of China is a separation wall almost 9000 km long (total length - 21.2 thousand km), built in ancient China and is the largest architectural monument. In Chinese, the word for the project itself (长城, Chángchéng) has also taken on the figurative meaning of "unbending powerful force, insurmountable barrier." The Great Wall of China is mentioned in the National Anthem of the PRC.

The wall runs through northern China for 8851.9 km, and in the Badaling section it is located in close proximity to Beijing (this is the length of the last structure of the Ming Dynasty, and this includes 6259 km of the walls themselves, 359 km of ditches, 2232 km of natural defensive lines in the form hills and rivers).

The length of the wall with all branches is 21,196 kilometers.

The thickness of the Great Wall of China is 5-6 m in the upper part and does not exceed 7 m in the lower part, and the height is on average from 6 to 8 m, reaching a maximum of 16 m.

The construction stretches along the Yinshan mountain range, skirting all the spurs, overcoming both high rises and very significant gorges.

Over the centuries, the wall has changed its name. Initially, it was called "Barrier", "Rampant" or "Fortress". Later, the wall acquired more poetic names, such as "Purple Border" and "Earth Dragon".



10,000 li long wall

The Chinese name “10,000 Li Long Wall” (萬里長城 / 万里长城, Wànlǐ Chángchéng) includes the Chinese length lǐ (里). One historical Li corresponds to approximately 500 m, 10,000 Li is therefore approximately 5,000 km. However, the expression is not to be understood literally. The number 10,000, i.e. wàn (萬 / 万), also stands for infinity or an uncountable quantity (similar to the myriad) in Chinese. Therefore, the expression can be understood as “unimaginably long wall”.


Great Wall or Great Walls?

The construction of ramparts and walls to define and fortify borders has a long tradition in China. The individual states probably built border fortifications as early as the time of the Spring and Autumn Annals (722–481 BC) and the time of the Warring States (475–221 BC). According to tradition, the first Chinese emperor, Qin Shihuangdi, ruled around 220 BC. A “long wall” with “over 10,000 li” was built on the northern border in 200 BC.

From the 17th century to the 19th century, it was assumed in Europe that the fortifications near Beijing were built under Qin Shihuangdi, the first emperor of China, and that the entire (former) northern border was secured with such a wall. The idea that the wall was at least started under Qin Shihuangdi still exists today, but this does not agree with current knowledge (see map).

After it became clear that the iconic wall was much more recent than initially assumed and that older bulwarks ran differently, it has become common practice in China to summarize all longer border fortifications through ramparts and walls historically built in northern China as 萬里長城 / 万里长城, Wànlǐ Chángchéng - "10,000 Li Wall" or "10,000 Li Walls" (there is no number in Chinese) - or as 長城 / 长城, Chángchéng, even if historically other terms were used for the individual fortifications. In English this is translated as “Great Wall,” which, although in the singular, now stands for all of the former border fortifications in northern China. In German, the term “Chinese Wall” is now used to describe all of these border fortifications (see the heading on the map). When making statements about “the Great Wall of China” in this broader sense, it should be noted that the individual fortifications come from widely separated eras and did not represent a system of walls at any time.

In the following, the different bulwarks built by the different dynasties are referred to as “Great Walls”, and the Great Wall of China in the classical sense is referred to as “Great Wall of the Ming Period”. It should be noted that this “Great Wall” was not built as a uniform structure, but rather in sections with different construction methods over a period of over 100 years.


Extent and condition

According to the latest archaeological surveys, the Chinese Cultural Heritage Office reported the total length of all Great Walls as 21,196 km in June 2012.

In terms of volume and mass, the Ming Period Great Wall is considered the largest structure in the world. The wall consists of a system of several sections, some of which are not connected to each other, of different ages and different construction methods, the main wall of which is 2,400 km long. In total, the wall stretches across 15 provinces, autonomous regions and cities: Beijing, Tianjin, Hebei, Shanxi, Inner Mongolia, Liaoning, Jilin, Heilongjiang, Shandong, Henan, Shaanxi, Gansu, Qinghai, Ningxia, Xinjiang. The section between Shanhaiguan, Yumenguan and Yangguan is recorded in the Guinness Book of Records as the “longest wall in the world” with a stated length of 3,460 km.

Today the wall is constantly being restored through government funding. There is a 600 km long section near Beijing, most of which is in good condition. Four sections can be visited by tourists. The best-known restored section of the Wall extends near Badaling, 70 km northwest of Beijing. Other tourist-developed sections are at Mutianyu, Simatai and Juyongguan. While the sections at Mutianyu and Badaling are to be expanded due to the great tourist interest, new sections at Huanghuacheng and Hefangkou that are open to the public are also planned.



Early Great Walls

It is believed that as early as the 7th century BC Great walls were built. The oldest Great Walls found so far are those of the Qi Duchy in today's Shandong Province and the Great Wall of the Chu Kingdom in today's Henan Province. They go back to the time of the Spring and Autumn Annals (770–476 BC).

Other early wall-like border fortifications were probably built in the second half of the 5th century BC during the Warring States Period as protection against the feuding Chinese. These individual wall sections consisted of compacted clay, which was mixed with layers of straw and brushwood to make it more durable.

In the 4th century BC, the first Chinese emperor, Qin Shihuangdi, had protective walls built to protect the Chinese empire from the peoples from the north, especially the Xiongnu, after its expansion across the Yellow River. In contrast to the existing old remains of the wall, the wall was not built in the valleys, but below the ridge line of the mountains on the northern slopes. Due to the lack of clay, it consisted largely of natural stone slabs stacked on top of each other.

Since then, Great Walls have been built again and again.

In 1907, the British archaeologist Aurel Stein discovered numerous bamboo strips in the area of the Great Wall of the Han Dynasty (汉长城, Han changcheng) on which he was able to decipher orders, instructions and field post letters from the first century BC, as well as seals of the commanders, secret ones Codes on separate boards and operational plans of the soldiers deployed on that section of the wall at the time. The most important records found are information about an optical telegraphy system named after Stein, with which coded smoke signals were sent from the towers in front of the wall during the day and fire signals at night to the watchtowers on the wall and in the Chinese hinterland to the garrisons stationed there. when attackers from the north approached the section of the wall. Thanks to a fixed code, it was even possible to specify the number and distance of the attackers.


The Great Wall of the Ming Period

In the Ming period, construction began in 1442 with the construction of ramparts on the Liaodong Peninsula. After this, ramparts were built in the Ordos Plateau from 1473 onwards. By 1550, ramparts or walls made of dry stone were built in other places, especially north and northeast of Beijing - only passages and forts were built with mortar.

From 1550, the previously existing dry stone wall north of Beijing was replaced by the current wall made of mortared stone. From 1569 to 1571, 1,200 brick towers were built here, which served as weapons depots and signal towers and offered protection against attackers. From 1577 onwards, bricks were used instead of natural stone further east. Further walls were built with bricks until at least 1623. The mortar used consists of quicklime and around three percent glutinous rice, with the amylopectin contained in this early composite material ensuring its particularly high resistance. Only the outer skin of the building is made of brick (form masonry); the interior is filled with clay, sand and gravel. The course follows the mountain ridges, which made production particularly difficult.

The dimensions of today's walls built with mortar are quite different; In the Beijing area, 4 to 8 m width at the crown and 10 m at the base and a height of 6 to 9 m are common. The towers are approximately 12 m high and are a few hundred meters apart.

On the famous map of China by the Flemish cartographer Abraham Ortelius, which appeared in the Atlas Theatrum Orbis Terrarum in 1584, a Great Wall is depicted, which in terms of architectural style roughly corresponds to the wall built from 1550 with the towers built from 1569, although the width of the Wall was underestimated. This west-facing map is the first map of China printed in Europe. The length of the wall was given by this cartographer as 400 Dutch miles, which is 2336 km. The Latin text next to the wall reads: Murus quadringentarum leucarum inter montium crepidines a Rege Chinæ contra Tartarorum ab hac parte eruptiones extructus. In English: A four hundred mile long wall was built between the mountain ridges by the King of China against Tartar invasions in this area.


More fortification ruins

Sven Hedin and Folke Bergman explored the course of the Silk Road during their Chinese-Swedish expedition from 1927 to 1935 and discovered the remains of a signal tower in the Lop Nor desert, which Folke Bergman described in 1937. They themselves viewed this find as evidence of the course of the trade route. In early 2001, after reading his book in Chinese in 2000, Chinese scientists visited the signal tower described there, nearly 500 km west of Jiayuguan Fortress. It is believed that such towers were built to protect the middle route of the Silk Road, along which richly laden trade caravans traveled west. With renewed interest in the Great Wall of China, there has been recent speculation that the ruins represent a continuation of the Ming Great Wall.


The Great Wall of the Ming Period as a World Heritage Site

UNESCO declared the Great Wall of China a World Heritage Site in 1987.

While some parts of the wall near tourist centers have been preserved or even restored, large parts of the wall are now in poor condition. Some of them are used by nearby villagers as a source of stone for houses and roads. Sections of the wall were also graffitied or torn down to make way for other construction projects. The wall has been protected since 2006 and it is forbidden to use it as a quarry. The Great Wall of China Society is committed to preservation.

In 2007, the wall was voted one of the “new seven wonders of the world” by 70 million people worldwide as part of a private initiative. Both UNESCO as the official guardian of the world cultural heritage and e.g. Egypt (Ancient Wonders of the World: Pyramids of Giza) distanced themselves from the election, which was described as a “private campaign” without scientific criteria.


Destruction and restoration of the wall

Despite many years of efforts, the wall was systematically destroyed and fell into disrepair. During the Qing Empire (1644–1911), the Manchus, having overcome the wall with the help of Wu Sangui's betrayal, then treated the wall with disdain.

During the three centuries of Qing rule, the Great Wall almost collapsed under the influence of time. Only a small section of it near Beijing - Badaling - was maintained in order; it served as a kind of “gateway to the capital”. In 1899, American newspapers started a rumor that the wall would be completely demolished and a highway would be built in its place.

In 1984, on the initiative of Deng Xiaoping, a program for the restoration of the Great Wall of China was launched, financed from funds from Chinese and foreign companies, as well as individuals. In the late 1980s, a major art auction took place in Beijing to coincide with the restoration of the wall and was broadcast on television in Paris, London and New York. It was preceded by a banquet of Western cultural figures and Chinese dignitaries, at which the artist Armand publicly smashed a violin against a wall in order to assemble a panel from its fragments to be sold at auction - for which he was booed so much that the French delegation had to leave the hall. Arman's works were ignored by Chinese buyers at auction, so he had to buy them himself so as not to damage his prestige.

Despite the work carried out, the remains of the wall, removed from tourist places, are still in a ruined state today. Some areas are destroyed when the site of the wall is chosen as a place to build villages or stone from the wall as a construction material, others - due to the construction of highways, railways and other extended artificial objects. Vandals spray graffiti on some areas.

It is reported that a 70-kilometer section of the wall in Minqin County, Gansu Province in the north-west of the country is undergoing active erosion. The reason is China's intensive farming practices since the 1950s have dried up groundwater, making the region a major source and hotspot for powerful sandstorms. More than 40 km of the wall have already disappeared, and only 10 km are still standing; the height of the wall in some places has decreased from five to two meters.

In 2007, on the border of China and Mongolia, William Lindsay discovered a significant section of the wall, which was attributed to the Han Dynasty. In 2012, the search for further fragments of the wall by William Lindsay's expedition culminated in the discovery of a lost section in Mongolia.

In 2012, a 36-meter section of the wall, located in Hebei province, collapsed due to heavy rains. No one was injured in the collapse. This happened on August 6, but the official message appeared only four days later.


Visibility of the wall from the Moon

One of the earliest references to the myth of the wall being visible from the moon comes from a 1754 letter from the English antiquarian William Stukeley. Stukeley wrote: “This huge wall, 128 km long (we are talking about Hadrian’s Wall), is surpassed only by the Chinese Wall, which takes up so much space on the globe, and in addition it can be seen from the Moon.” Henry Norman, an English journalist and politician, also mentions this. In 1895, he reports: “...besides its age, this wall is the only human creation that can be seen from the moon.” At the end of the nineteenth century, the theme of Martian canals was widely discussed, which may have led to the idea that long, thin objects on the surface of planets were visible far from space. The visibility of the Great Wall of China from the Moon was also heard in 1932 in the popular American comics Ripley's Believe It or Not! and in the 1938 book Second Book of Marvels by an American traveler Richard Halliburton.

This myth has been debunked more than once, but has not yet been eradicated from popular culture. The maximum width of the wall is 9.1 meters, and it is approximately the same color as the ground on which it is located. Based on the resolving power of optics (the ratio of the distance to an object to the diameter of the entrance pupil of the optical system - a few millimeters for the human eye and several meters for large telescopes), only an object that is contrasted with the surrounding background and has a size of 10 kilometers or more in diameter ( which corresponds to 1 arc minute), can be seen with the naked eye from the Moon, the average distance from which to the Earth is 384,393 kilometers. The approximate width of the Great Wall of China, when viewed from the Moon, would be the same as that of a human hair when viewed from a distance of 3.2 kilometers. Seeing the wall from the Moon would require vision 17,000 times better than normal. It is not surprising that none of the astronauts who visited the Moon ever reported seeing the wall while on the surface of our satellite.


Visibility of the wall from Earth orbit

More controversial is the question of whether the Great Wall of China is visible from orbit (more than 200 km above the earth). According to NASA, the Wall is barely visible, and only under ideal conditions. It is no more visible than other artificial structures. Some authors argue that due to the limited optical capabilities of the human eye and the distance between the photoreceptors on the retina, the wall cannot be seen even from low orbit with the naked eye, which would require vision 7.7 times sharper than normal.

Astronaut William Pogue, while aboard Skylab, initially thought he saw a wall, but it turned out that he saw the Grand Canal of China near Beijing. He was able to see the wall with the help of binoculars, but noted that without it the wall was indistinguishable. Astronaut and US Senator Edwin Garn claimed to have seen the wall with the naked eye from orbit while aboard the Space Shuttle in 1985, but his claim has been questioned by several astronauts. Eugene Cernan also stated: “From Earth’s orbit at an altitude of 160 to 320 kilometers, the Great Wall of China is truly visible to the naked eye.” Edward Lu, a member of the ISS-7 crew of the International Space Station, added that “it is less visible than many other objects. And you definitely have to know where to look.”

In 2001, Neil Armstrong stated about his time aboard Apollo 11: “I do not believe, at least as far as my own eyes are concerned, that there is any artificial object that I could see. And I don’t know anyone who would admit to me that they saw the Great Wall of China from earth orbit... I asked various people, especially guys who flew over China many times during the daytime, and none of them saw it.”

In October 2003, Chinese astronaut Yang Liwei said that he was unable to see the Great Wall of China. In response, the European Space Agency issued a press release stating that from an orbit altitude of 160 to 320 kilometers, the wall is still visible to the naked eye. In an attempt to clarify this issue, the European Space Agency published a photo of part of the Great Wall of China taken from space. However, a week later they admitted the mistake (instead of a wall in the photo there was one of the rivers).

Leroy Chiao, a Chinese-American astronaut, took a photo of the wall from the International Space Station. She was so indistinguishable that Chiao wasn't even sure if he had photographed her. Based on this photograph, the Chinese newspaper China Daily reported that the wall could be visible from space with the naked eye if viewing conditions are favorable and if you know where to look. However, the resolution of a camera can be significantly greater than that of the human visual system, the optics are different, and photographic evidence cannot be the answer to the question of whether the Wall can be distinguished by the human eye.


Great Wall Museum

The museum was built in 1994 as part of the patriotic "Love China, Save the Great Wall" campaign launched by Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping in 1984. It is located on a 10-meter terrace, approximately 400 meters from the entrance to the Badaling site. Since 2022 it has been under reconstruction. By June 22, 2022, its 5,741 cultural artifacts had been moved to nearby district cultural institutions in Yanqing.

General planning for the museum's improvements began in early 2020. The main goal of the renovation is to better showcase the history of the Great Wall and to house artifacts found in the building from the Warring States period (475-221 BC) to the Qing dynasty (1644-1911). Following the renovation, three main areas of the site will be open to the public: the exhibition hall, the visitor center and the Great Wall International Institute for Research and Exchange. It is expected that once the renovation work is completed, the museum's area will be 16,000 square meters.

Following the renovation, the museum also plans to focus on research to promote the "spirit of the Great Wall" and improve the institution's research, education and communication functions. The goal is to develop the museum into a center for observing the heritage of the Great Wall, introducing the culture of the wall, displaying the intangible cultural heritage of the structure, and developing related cultural and creative projects.



According to legend, a huge dragon showed the direction and place to build the wall to the workers. He walked along the borders of the country, and workers erected a wall at the site of his tracks. Some argue that even the very shape that the wall formed resembles a soaring dragon.

The most famous legend is the story of Meng Jiangnu, the wife of a peasant who was forced to work on the wall during the Qin Dynasty. When the sad news reached the woman that her husband was buried in the wall, she arrived at that place and cried so bitterly that part of the wall where the remains of her husband were hidden collapsed from her crying, revealing them to her eyes. There is a Meng Jiangnyu Temple in Qinhuangdao, in front of which there is a sculpture of her. The famous Soviet and Russian sinologist B. L. Riftin dedicated a detailed monograph to this legend, for which he was awarded the academic degree of Candidate of Philological Sciences in 1961.