Great Wall of China - An ancient fortification thousands of miles long (28 May)
Interesting Facts about Great Wall of China
THE GREAT WALL snakes across northern China for hundreds and hundreds of miles, the world’s largest human-made military structure and one of its oldest. Qin Shi Huang Di, the first emperor to unify China under one dynasty (he also built the army of terra-cotta warriors), began constructing the Great Wall about 220 B.C. Anxious to protect China from marauding barbarians, Qin Shi Huang Di built onto existing earthworks and linked these old remnants into a unified wall as best he could. But the bulk of the wall still standing today, reinforced with stone and brick and with turrets and watchtowers, was constructed centuries later, during the Ming dynasty (1368–1644).
According to a recent Chinese study, this marvel of engineering rambles for more than 12,400 miles (19,960 km) from the Korean border west to the Gobi. (More conservative figures place the wall’s extent at about 5,500 miles/8,851 km.) The wall was built over centuries by soldiers, slaves, prisoners, criminals, and common people, and many died in their toils. Built on average 32 feet (10 m) high, the wall’s typical width is 16 feet (5 m)—enough space for 10 soldiers or five horses to stand abreast.
The Great Wall is not one uninterrupted rampart, but a network of many sections cobbled together. The building materials varied by era and location—in some places the wall was constructed of adobe bricks; in others, stone; in still others, wooden planks and earth. Sometimes features like hills and river gorges took the place of a built segment of the fortification.
Massive as it is, in the end the Great Wall failed its primary task: It didn’t keep out enemies. The Mongols rode right through gaps, conquering most of northern China during the early 13th century. Later, the Manchus overtook the Ming dynasty when the traitor General Wu Sangui decided they constituted China’s best chance at order, and let them through the wall.
More than 10 million people visit the Great Wall of China every year. The beautifully preserved but crowded Badaling section is closest to Beijing. A little farther away, visitors can escape the hordes at the Mutianyu section of wall by climbing it and taking in views of far-off misty green hills. Farther from Beijing, the wall becomes more rudimentary and less restored—sometimes it disappears altogether. Here, in the far reaches of the former empire, visitors can best comprehend how ancient and extensive this ruin is.
The Great Wall continues to be one of China’s most enduring national symbols, but one myth can be put to rest once and for all: It cannot be seen from space.