Where It's At
The Great Wall of China is the longest structure ever
built by man. It stretches 4,500 miles, winding along the
mountains of Korea, the Gobi Desert and across five provinces
like a medieval dragon and it is the only manmade structure
which can be seen from the moon.
The construction of the Great Wall began with the Qin
dynasty (221-207 BC) and finally ended with the Ming
dynasty (1368-1644). The later dynasties such as Han,
Sui and Tang also reconstructed and restored many parts of
the Great Wall, making it one of the Wonders of the World.
The Great Wall is basically divided into two parts, the Qin
Wall and the Ming Wall. The Qin dynasty made their walls out
of sticky rice and compressed dirt and parts of this wall
can still be seen in remote parts of China. However, what
most visitors today see of the Great Wall is what has been
restored in the Ming dynasty, when stone slabs and bricks
were used to create the formidable barrier.
Originally built to keep foreigners out of China, the Great
Wall now brings them in by the busloads as a major tourist
For over 2000 years, the Great Wall was used as a form of
defence for China. It started off as a series of walls built
to protect the Zhou dynasty from attacks from the north.
More walls were then added during the Warring States Period
(475-221 BC) and some parts were connected to form a bigger
defensive structure along the borders.
It was not until the Qin dynasty unified China in
221 BC, when the walls were joined to hold off the invaders
from the Xiongnu tribes in the north. Emperor Qin
Shi Huang also ordered the extension of the wall to more
than 10,000 li (3,000 miles), giving the structure its original
name 'Wan Li Chang Chen' (the 10,000-li Great Wall).
Emperor Qin ruled the country with an iron fist and he was
notorious for banishing and executing many dissenting Confucian
scholars. By unifying the warring states, the Qin dynasty
created much of what constitutes modern China.
However, the present Great Wall we see today is largely the
work of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), during which
the watch towers in strategic areas were restored and strengthened
as a form of deterrence to the Mongols, whom the Ming
emperors had a long standing feud with.
Visiting the Great Wall today
Crafted by one great dynasty after another, the Great Wall
of China today stands as a testament to Chinese history.
From Beijing, visitors to the Great Wall flock to Badaling
Great Wall, which lies just 40 miles north of the capital
and is one of the most well preserved parts of the structure.
Some parts of the road atop the wall are wide enough for six
horses or ten soldiers to march side by side. This part of
the Great Wall has seen about 80 million visitors from all
over the world, including 300 heads of state and other celebrities
from foreign countries.
Simatai Great Wall is known as "the best of the
Great Wall" and is located 80 miles northeast of Beijing.
Built on a steep mountain range, many structures found here
are unmatched by any part of the Great Wall. A perfect example
of this is the Sky Bridge, a 110-yard long passage
that is just over one foot wide, just enough space for one
brave soldier to cross from one tower to the next.
Deciding on the part of the Great Wall to visit will depend
on your schedule. If you only have a day then Badaling
or Mutianyu are your best bet as they are the closest
to Beijing. They are also the most restored and the most popular.
Both are served well by cable cars so you can have a fairly
relaxed wall experience. If you have more time or if you want
to do some hiking then you can start early in the morning
and get a driver to drop you off at either Jinshangling
and to pick you up at Simatai, or vice versa. It's
about a 4-5 hour hike and the scenery is spectacular.
Tours and accommodation
If you start at Simatai and end up in Jinshangling,
check if you can make a deal with the IWNC Group to
rent their guesthouse, which is located just at the foot of
the wall. They are an interesting management counselling group
and their dormitory-style guesthouses can accommodate up to
23 persons. They also have an excellent in-house chef! Check
out their website, listed below.
Another option is to tour the Wild Wall, which takes
you to parts of the Great Wall not usually frequented by day-trippers.
Contact Mark Yen, a great guide who has been trekking
the wall since he was five. He knows the wall really well
and can customise the perfect trip for you, for more information,
take a look at his website.