The Great Wall – The destination in China that you cannot ignore

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The Great Wall is one of the most famous attractions in China. It reflects collision and exchanges between agricultural civilizations and nomadic civilizations in ancient China.

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Each wall section is fortified with a series of double- or triple-lined walls and military structures, including watchtowers, beacon towers, fortresses, garrison towns and blockhouses. Some of the sections are merged with natural defensive barriers, such as rivers and hills. As such, walking a section of the Great Wall is not exactly a walk in the park – mostly it involves inching along with hands firmly on the handrail. In remoter, less well-kept sections, it can be dangerous, with loose bricks and stones. One man, though, has trekked the entire length of the Great Wall – but it took him two years – which meant surviving some of China’s most difficult terrain as well as unpredictable weather at high altitudes.

The Great Wall History

Up until the early Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1911), China was in constant warfare with neighbouring states and northern invaders. When Qin Shih Huang – the first Chinese emperor – unified the fragmented warring states under his Qin Empire, he linked the existing fortification system together as well as expanding it westward in hopes of warding off the northern nomadic tribes for once and for all. Finally, what started off as an expansive fortification project turned into the largest military defense system in the world. Constructed using the rammed-earth technique, little of the ‘original’ Great Wall – built during the reign of Qin Shih Huang – has survived the test of time. Much of what is left standing today was constructed with stones and kiln-fired bricks, an engineering innovation under the Ming emperors.

The Great Wall (via travelandleisure)

The Great Wall was made longer and more robust, with multi-line walls and additional structures, such as canon towers, observations posts, fortresses and beacons. In effect, the Wall’s military function ceased once Mongolia was annexed by China during the Qing Dynasty. After extensive renovation by the government of the People’s Republic of China, the Badaling section was the first to open as a tourist attraction in 1955.

Highlights and features

– Badaling: The best-preserved – and most-visited section – situated 73km north of Beijing (accessible by bus or taxi). A military stronghold during the Ming Dynasty, Badaling’s outpost at Juyongguan is believed to be the highest point of the entire Great Wall (at 1,000 metres above sea level).
Shanhaiguan: The easternmost section (Ming), with one of the most heavily fortified and best preserved passes (The First Pass under Heaven). Flanked by the mountains and sea, Shanhaiguan is home to the eastern beginning of the Great Wall, or Laolongtou (Old Dragon’s Head), which juts into the Bohai Sea, and the Great Wall Museum. It lies 300 kilometres to the east of Beijing and is accessible via the Jingshen Expressway.

The Great Wall (via travelandleisure)

Simatai: Famous for its steep, ragged and intact appearance. The Simatai section (Hebei Province) features an attractive lake (Mandarin Duck Lake) and the famous Fairy Tower, with a steep stairway that rises at an 85-degree angle. Accessible by public bus from Beijing (120km).
Jinshanling: Connects with Simatai to the east (110km northeast of Beijing, accessible by bus), the Jinshanling section (Hebei Province) also has a steep, ragged appearance. Trek up the craggy stone stairs that lead to a watchtower for a spectacular view of the Great Wall snaking across the mountain ridges into the horizon.
–  Mutianyu: Winding through verdant mountains and pine forests, the Mutianyu (72km from Beijing, accessible by bus) section is renowned for its spectacular scenery.
Jiayuguan: Constructed in 1372 using the rammed-earth technique, Jiayuguan is the western starting point of the Great Wall and one of its best-preserved ancient military fortresses. The pass boasts magnificent three-storey fortresses and watchtowers, which look out over the vastness of the Gobi desert. Visitors should fly in to Jiayuguan City, then take a taxi to the pass.

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