Great Wall of China

Looking down the Great Wall

It’s one of the world’s great human constructions; a fortification around which many legends and myths are spun; and an experience that one should definitely attempt.

China’s Great Wall is well named for it is indeed fantastic.  Although popularly thought to have been built in one hectic construction phase, the Wall was actually built over many hundreds of years as China’s many rulers added their own bits over time.  What is known about the Great Wall is that parts of it started appearing as early as the seventh century B.C., but the main part of the wall was started during the reign of Emperor Qin Shi Huang Ti from 260 B.C., and its purpose was to keep out raiders from the north.  Emperor Qin Shi Huang Ti was China’s first Emperor, he was the one who unified the country it is his, still uncovered, mausoleum that is guarded by the Terracotta Warriors just outside the old Capital Xian.

Although much of The Great Wall is in a state of disrepair these days, you can still trace the length of the main wall for 3,460 kilometres (2,145 miles) with branches and spurs extending a further 2,860 kilometres (1,770 miles).  It is estimated that over one million workers died during construction, and that many of those are interred inside the Wall.  The mortar which connects the huge blocks which make up the Wall is actually made from a mixture of rice flour and water, so no doubt it would taste okay if you ever decided to eat your way through it.

Most visitors to Beijing take the trouble to visit the Great Wall, and the most popular places to visit from Beijing are at Badaling, Jinshanling, Juyongguan, Simatai and Mutianyu.  At all these places the Wall is well preserved.  Mutianyu even has a cable car to take visitors up onto the Wall and a wheeled toboggan ride to get you down, assuming you enjoy a non-traditional experience.  Simatai is where the Wall is at its steepest as it perches on the crests of steep cliffs.  There is also a cable car here to help you better see the Wall.  Badaling is still the most popular place for day visits (the Great Wall attracts over 40 million visitors per year, most of whom are Chinese domestic tourists), and it can get very busy.

As you drive into the mountains just north of Beijing you see the Wall start to snake its way along the ridges, but it is when you actually walk onto the Wall that you realise just what an amazing feat of engineering it really is.  Many people say that they would like to walk along the Great Wall of China, but you don’t walk along it at all.  You climb the Great Wall.  It is very steep in parts, and the steps which lead you up or down are themselves very high, about twice the height of a normal stair, and they can take a good deal of effort to both ascend and to descend.

The Great Wall at Badaling

Fortunately, the effort is well worth the energy, for when you get to the higher reaches, you can view the Wall in all of its glory.  Plus, if you have the time and energy to keep going, it is possible to get well away from the crowds and enjoy parts of the Wall to yourself.

Transport to The Great Wall is quite easy, although the closest the Wall gets to Beijing is 50 kilometres.  There are a number of public buses and tourist coaches which have regular departures, although some parts may be easier to reach by taxi.

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