There’s this urban myth circulating within China, that only two architectures can be observed by the astronauts from the moon, one being the Great Wall of China. It has of course long been clarified as a wishful deception, but the grandeur of the Great Wall can never be overrated.
The Great Wall, along with the Taj Mahal in India, Christ the Redeemer in Brazil and the Colosseum in Italy, is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. It was listed as an UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site in 1987. The construction of Great Wall initially began in the 7th century BC and was commissioned as fortifications by different States. There were three significant historical periods of construction undertaken - the Qin, the Han and the Ming Dynasties. After Emperor Qin Shi Huang conquered adjoining states and unified China during 220-206BC, he requested adhering these individual walls and further extensions to form the basis of the present Great Wall, which at that time extended to a length of 5,000 kilometers. During the Han Dynasty, The Great Wall was further reinforced westbound so as to guard the Silk Road and ward off the invading Mongols. It was, however, during the Ming Dynasty that majority of the augmentations and renovations were carried out. The Ming Great Wall is stretching over 7,000 kilometers winding through nine cities, provinces and autonomous regions. It is mostly the Ming Dynasty Wall that is opened to the public today.
The structures of the Great Wall include towers and fortifications. Beacon towers were built on both sides of the Wall at the commanding points, which are mostly top of the mountains or twists and turns along the Wall, ideal spots for casting warning signals. A practical system of fires, smoke and gunshots were employed for signaling, for example, one smoke puff plus one gunshot represented approaching enemy of 100 soldiers. Watch towers, usually two stories in height, were built at regular intervals along the Great Wall. The ground floor was for storing firearms and featured a number of openings for the archers. The upper floor had battlements, peep holes and apertures for archers. The watch towers were not only used by the defending troops for shelter from the wind and rain, but also to fight and check the enemy’s advance, and to store arms and ammunition.
Mutianyu Great Wall
Mutianyu Great Wall is located in the Huairou district approximately 45 miles from Beijing. It connects Juyongguan Pass in the west to Gubeikou Great Wall in the east and historically has served as the northern border of Beijing. The construction of this section was started in the mid-6th century and remains to be the most well-preserved part of the Great Wall built during the Ming Dynasty. Unlike the more frequently-visited section of The Wall, Mutianyu is famous for its unique fortifications. Instead of rectangular parapets, both of the Wall’s inner and outer sides have saw-toothed shaped parapets to fend off enemies coming from either side. Below the parapets, square embrasures are built with arc design on top, different from the traditional circular embrasures.
There are 22 watch towers located at close intervals along the main wall and the branch cities. The branch walls are built on the hill ridges against the inner or outer sides of the wall in order to reduce the threat to the main wall. In the northwestern area over the 3,281 feet hills, lies a section of the wall called “Ox Horn Edge” with branches aptly named “Flying Eagle Files Facing Upward” and “Arrow Lock”. Some part of this section is nearly vertical with steps only a few feet wide. The Mutianyu Pass consists of 3 watchtowers; the biggest in the center with two smaller ones on either side. Standing on the same terrace, the three watchtowers are connected to each other inside - a rarely seen structure within the 7,000 km of the Great Wall. Besides, Mutianyu Great Wall is also famous for the breathtakingly beautiful scenery with the forest coverage rate of over 90 percent.
Juyongguan Great Wall
Juyongguan Pass is located 50 kilometers northwest to downtown Beijing. The Pass, built in a gap between two mountain peaks, has only one road leading to Beijing. During Qing Dynasty, Juyongguan Pass was known for being one of the most prestigious views of Beijing. A famous saying states that “One man guards the pass, thousands of army are unable to get through”. Inside Juyong Pass, there is an ancient marble platform named Cloud Terrace, known for the marvelous carvings on it. The Cloud Terrace is 9.5 meters tall, 26.8 meters from east to west, 17.6meters from north to south at the base, and it narrows towards the top. On the middle edge of the archway, there is a carving of a gold winged bird in addition to carvings of several animals. Inside the arched passage of the Cloud Terrace, there are Buddhist images carved in the bas relief. There are also Buddhist scriptures inscribed on the stone wall in six different languages.
Badaling Great Wall
The Badaling Great Wall is the most crowded section and most preserved section of the Great Wall located 70 kilometers away from Beijing. This section of the Great Wall is famed as it is extending in different directions. In Chinese, Bada translates into “convenient transportation to all directions”.
Badaling served as a military stronghold for Juyongguan Pass. Constructed to an average height of 7.8 meters using huge blue bricks, Badaling is 6.5 meters wide at the bottom and 5.8 meters across the top, wide enough for five horses or ten soldiers to walk abreast. The Badaling section is about 12 kilometers long with 24 watch towers and 4 walled platforms. On the western pass of Badaling, there is an inscription of four words on the top, reading “北门锁钥”, meaning“a key to the north gate”, indicating Badaling Pass as the final line of defense to Beijing”. If Badaling was to be penetrated by invaders, Beijing would be exposed to unredeemable danger.
Under the south gate lies a humongous cannon named “Great General” with a diameter of 105mm and a range of 500meters – quite a feat of engineering in its time. Notably, the outer sides of the wall have square shaped openings used by the archers to keep watch and were ideal shooting positions for their bows.
The Great Wall bears a rich history of more than 2,500 years. The wall is no longer guarding China from invaders. Instead, it takes on a central role in Chinese culture and international identity. From a visit to the Great Wall of China, people walk away totally awestricken by the immensity of the structure.
Juyongguan: Two One Six Provincial Road, Juyongguan Village, Changping District, Beijing, China
Badaling: Badaling Village, Yanqing County, Beijing, China
Mutianyu: Bohai County, Huairou District, Beijing, China
Juyongguan: 40RMB (Apr.-Oct.), 35RMB (Nov.-Mar.)
Badaling: 45RMB (Apr.-Oct.), 40RMB (Nov.-Mar.)
Juyongguan: 8:00-17:00 (Apr.-Oct.), 8:30–16:00 (Nov.-Mar.)
Badaling: 6:30-19:00 (Apr.-Oct.), 7:00-18:00(Nov.-Mar.)
How to get there:
Trains to Badaling from Beijing North Station, Xizhimen, takes up about one and a half hours
Coaches No.919 is available at Deshengmen Station
The Great Wall is one of the most-visited place in China, therefore please be prepared for the crowd;
Any part of the Great Wall is centuries old antique, please handle with care and be aware of that any vandalism would be condemned.