Secrets of the Great Wall of China
The Great Wall of China's history stretches back more than 2,000 years

Alvin Munene | Aug 08, 2018

Like a writhing dragon's tail,the Great Wall of Chinasnakes its way across China's northern border. As its name suggests, the Great Wall is an imposing architectural marvel, and it's often hailed as one of the greatest man-made wonders of the world.

The Great Wall of China's history stretches back more than 2,000 years, to a time before China was even a unified country.

But the Great Wall ofChinaisn't really a single great wall. "The first thing to note," travel expert Stan Godwyn told us, "is that it's actually a series of walls and fortifications."

Godwyn typically arranges for clients to visit one of four main sections Badaling (the most well-known and accessible for travelers of varying mobility),Mutianyu(well-restored but much less crowded), Simatai (a crumbling, rugged stretch of wall), and Jinshanling (for serious hikers).

Despite its cultural and historic importance, it wasn't until 1987 that the Great Wall of China was listed as a World Heritage site by UNESCO.

Want to discover more Great Wall of China facts and bits of history? Read on for our definitive guide to this bucket list attraction and ancient marvel.

Where is the Great Wall of China?

TheGreat WallofChinais easily accessible fromBeijing, though the massive structure stretches from Hushan, Liaoning in the east all the way to the city of Jiayuguan, in the country's northwest. Generally speaking, the Great Wall of China defends the country's northernmost border. A 2012 archeological survey estimated that the wall (taking into account all the dynasties that had worked on the structure) crosses 15 provinces and extends from Xinjiang, in the northwest, to the border of Koreain the east.

How Long is the Great Wall of China?

If you were to measure all the sections ever built, a new reports suggest the Great Wall of China could be a staggering 13,170.7 miles long. The most popular (and arguably the most beautiful) section was erected during the Ming Dynasty, and runs for 5,500.3 miles between Hushan to the Jiayuguan Pass. Even if you only take into consideration the main-line length of the wall (about 2,150 miles) it's stillthe record-holding longest wall in the world.

For those wondering how tall the Great Wall ofChinais, the general answer is that the structure's height varies considerably, from 15 feet all the way to 39 feet. At its widest point, the wall is 32-feet-thick.

When Was the Great Wall of China Built?

It's hard to say precisely when the Great Wall of China was built, as so many dynasties and rulers contributed to its construction. It's thought that the first lengths of the wall were built as early as 770 B.C., though official work didn't begin until 221 B.C., during the reign of Emperor Qin Shi Huang. Most of what remains today that 5,500-mile stretch was built during the Ming dynasty, between 1368 and 1644.

According to the Travel China Guide, some 20 states and dynasties contributed to the construction of the Great Wall of China over the course of many millennia.

Why Was the Great Wall of China Built?

Originally built as a wartime defense, the Great Wall of China features many towers and passes. When Emperor Qin Shi Huang first proposed the so-called Long Wall, it was meant to defend the Chinese states against nomadic tribes from the north.

During the Han Dynasty, (between 206 B.C. and 220 A.D.) the Great Wall was extended to protect the Silk Road trade. The Ming Dynasty, which "took a largely defensive stance," according, is known for not only extending the Great Wall, but also repairing and reinforcing existing structures.

How Was the Great Wall of China Built?

Despite its name, the Great Wall is actually a collection of fortifications, some of which run parallel to one another, while others are circular or side walls. There are even portions of the Great Wall that are natural barriers, like rivers or high mountains.

Hundreds of years before any official construction on the Great Wall began, individual Chinese states built fortifications against one another, using mostly earth, wood, and stones. Construction during the Ming Dynasty made use of bricks rather than cut stone, which appears largely in the foundation and gateways.

According to, Qin Shi Huang hada labor force of nearly 300,000 soldiers, commoners, and prisoners. Hundreds of thousands of men died while working on the wall, which required them to carry heavy materials on their backs up to the top of the ridgelines.

Much of the work on the oldest sections of the Great Wall were built by hand, though primitive technology wheel barrows, ropes, basket-and-pulley-systems, and horse or oxen-drawn carts was also used.

When is the Best Time to Visit?

The most popular times to visit the Great Wall of China are the first weeks of May and October but travelers should expect massive crowds during these periods. "These are major holidays, and everyone travels," explained Godwyn.

During the winter, the Great Wall of China is blanketed in snow and the number of tourists will drop dramatically. But be prepared for a slippery, windy walk, and pack accordingly.

Autumn is arguably one of the most beautiful times to visit the Great Wall of China. Weather is comfortable and dry, and the mountains' foliage is a kaleidoscopic array of hues.

We also recommend booking a trip to the Great Wall of China in June. There aren't any domestic holidays, and it's Beijing's shoulder season. You'll avoid holiday-related crowds and also enjoy serious deals and discounts on hotel rooms and tours.

Can You See the Great Wall of China From Space?

Contrary to popular rumors, you can't see the Great Wall of China from space with the naked eye. AsNASA reported, however,photographstaken from the International Space Station have depicted sections of the wall under ideal conditions. The wall can be clearly photographed from space using radar imagery.

How Many People Visit the Great Wall of China?

Every year, more than 10 million people flock to the Great Wall of China, making it one of the world's most popular tourist attractions. In 2013, 10,720,000 tourists visited the Badaling and Mutianyu areas of the wall.

In 2013, some 10,720,000 tourists visited the Great Wall of China, making it one ofthe world's most visited tourist attractions.

How to Plan Your Visit

The Great Wall of China is a perfect day trip for travelers based in Beijing. "Most clients do one day at the Great Wall as part of a visit to Beijing," explained Godwyn. "Typically, we have a day of sightseeing in Beijing then the second day is an excursion to the wall."
Pick the part of the wall that best suits your needs and interests. Active, confident hikers should venture to Jinshanling, while families may want to stick with the more accessible Mutianyu section. (There's an unforgettable,three-minute-long toboggan ridefrom the top of the easternend to the bottom.)

Check specific fees in advance, but expect to pay approximately 45 yuan ($7) for general admission to the Great Wall.

But don't rush it. Whether you're visiting the Great Wall of China on a layover or during a longer trip, we recommend spending at least two or three hours exploring the ancient structure.

Getting to the Great Wall From Beijing

The beautiful, Ming Dynasty portion of the Great Wall is just 70 miles from Beijing. But getting there can be a bit tricky for travelers making the trek solo.

Visitors sticking with public transportation will first need to get to DongzhimenStation, where you can take an hour-long express bus ride to Huairou Station. Here, you'll need to transfer to a bus stopping at the Mutianyu Roundabout.

Subway lines also transfer to DongzhimenStation from the Beijing West Railway Station, Beijing South Railway Station, and the Beijing Railway Station. The Airport Expressconnects directly from the Capital International Airport to Dongzhimen Station.

Most experts on travel to the Great Wall will recommend skipping the train and opting for a hired car and a guide. They'll be able to take you to less popular sections of the wall and can help navigate unexpected hiccups, such as road closures. A car is also the best way to maximize your time.

This could, however, be quickly changing. By 2019 in time for the Winter Olympics in 2022 China plans to openthe world's deepest, largest high-speed railway stationbeneath the Great Wall's Badaling section.

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