Great Wall of China | 8,850 km long | 11th-III centuries BC
Is Great Wall seen from the moon? Is the exact length of the Chinese wall known? When and for what was built? What are the best-preserved portions of the wall and how can they be visited? Many questions, simple answers. The largest ever man-made construction has gone over more than two decades ago from China’s exclusive patrimony into the Cultural Patrimony of Humanity. From here until becoming one of the new wonders of the Modern World was just one step. It is said that if the Great Wall had been known since its construction, it would certainly have joined the Seven Wonders of Antiquity. Although it has often been said that the Great Wall is the only visible building on the Moon, no astronaut has ever said that the wall is observable from space for one reason: for it would be impossible for a wall of maximum width of 9.1 m and of an earth color to be seen from such a distance! For amusement, comparing the real distances, it would be said that looking at the Moon this long construction of thousands of kilometers would be as if someone were looking at a hair 3 km away. Without binoculars! But how important is that the rumor is not true?
At the over 8,850 km long, officially estimated in 2008, it has certainly captured the record of size in the field of architecture. Moreover, the research published this year in June shows that these measurements have also been exceeded, the values reaching 21,000 km. Sophisticated technologies have revealed new ruins of ancient fortifications, lost for centuries in China’s vast natural landscape. It remains certain that the Great Wall has been built and renovated over the centuries not in the form of a continuous linear structure, but as irregular, intertwined, adjacent or distant fragments. The space occupied by the wall stretches between the Yellow Sea to the east and the western limit of the Gobi Desert to the west. The first fortifications were erected in the 11th-III centuries BC, some early in the years of the conflicts between the small states in central China and the late ones, to halt the offensive intervention of the nomadic tribes in the north, beyond the mountains, of food sources. It was only Emperor Qin, who unified the Chinese kingdoms, understood the danger of the attacks of the Nordic barbarians and ordered the connection of the existing defensive structures into a single wall, reinforcing it.
During the successive dynasties, the wall was, fragmentarily, maintained or left in oblivion, as dictated by the political situation of those times. Only in the years of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), after defeating the Mongols, 5,650 km of defensive wall, fortresses, passages, and towers were built, making it accessible to the imperial army and relieving couriers. Many things would still be known. For example, the Great Wall is referred to as “the greatest cemetery in the world,” because hundreds of thousands of people, soldiers, prisoners, and peasants have died working on lifting it. Moreover, it is reported that the bodies of the victims were buried in the fortification land.
If in the beginning the walls were built from earth covered in wooden formworks (in vegetation areas) or from a mixture of earth, sand and gravel (in desert areas), during the Ming Dynasty they were enlarged, filled with stone slabs and dressed in Stone or brick. Their average height was 6 m, and that of the 13 m towers.As the top reached a width of 9 m, six horses stood next to each other like a boulevard. Signals of attacks were used to fire successively by soldiers in the towers, and a message could be transmitted from one end to the other in the wall in 24 hours, also through people who, from each tower placed at a maximum of 180 m away, Communicate easily with ease. Over the centuries, the Great Wall contributed to the efficient control of borders and commodity exchanges, to encouragement of trade along old caravan routes, goods transport, and the surveillance of entry and exit into and from China.
The wall we see today is largely the military structure of the Ming Dynasty, and the best preserved and renovated portions are placed in the northern Beijing mountain range 70-120 km away. You can also visit fortifications in the east or west, some stranding the seashore, others crossing the innocent desert. Some, more critical, say that the Chinese efforts to renovate the wall around the capital have led to an excessive “cosmeticism” and that, in order to see the true Great Wall. Of the thousands of kilometers of fortifications, people used stones to other constructions, the waters and winds eroded the massive bodies of the earth, sands and vegetation covered the edges. The Great Wall no longer protects anything, but remains in the memory of the imperial power of the past.
Tourists departing from Beijing to the Great Wall have several options for visiting because in the northern part of the capital there are several important portions, renovated after 1949 or under renovation. One day at Badaling means a tour of the most visited area, and therefore the most commercial and most assaulted of people, from simple tourists to guides and ambulance vendors. This section, 3.7 km long and climbing on the 1,000-meter peaks, defended the Juyougguan Pass in the past at the northern end of the Guan’gou Gorge. The portion of the Mutianyu wall, nearly 2 km away, is more recently renovated and less crowded, but offers a view as beautiful as the one at Badaling, for here the fortification also stretches over the sharp ridges of the mountains. To the north-east, there are still works of conservation and restoration on the Simatai section, so the authorities temporarily restricted access.Two other parts, Gubeikou (40 km long) and Jinshanling (10 km long), are preferred by tourists because they preserve the real appearance of the wall, the great ruin. In such long and original sections, many travel agencies organize several-day trekking tours with the possibility of camping in the Great Wall guard towers.
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