Imagine a wall on earth that is so long and so incredibly massive that parts of it have stood since the 7th century BCE and you have ‘The Great Wall of China’.
This was listed as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World just five years ago in 2007, at the culmination of an intensive global voting campaign organised by The New Seven Wonders Foundation. This foundation felt the people of the planet should have a say in deciding on exactly which these new wonders are and also felt that the campaign would bring people closer together, plus, promote tourism in the countries lucky enough to ‘own’ these awesome monuments.
The Great Wall of China is not, of course, new at all as parts of its 8,850 kilometre length date back to approximately the 7th century BCE when the ancient states of Qin, Wei, Zhao, Qi and Zhongshan, each built defensive walls and fortifications along their borders. These walls, very little of them remain today, were mainly constructed out of earth and gravel packed between wooden frames and were erected to keep out the Xiongnu people from the north. Some experts believe that maybe as many as a million workers died during the construction.
These protective walls, quite a number of them sprang up over the years, were not initially all joined together but comprised separate lengths of walls and fortifications along the borders of different areas which were increasingly prone to attacks by Mongol raiders from the north. The Great Wall of China, as it eventually came to be known after the different lengths were all joined together, runs from Shanhaiguan in the east all the way to Lop Lake in the west and includes 6, 259 kilometres of stone and brick wall, 359 kilometres of trenches and 2, 232 kilometres of natural defences such as hills and rivers.
The history of this amazing structure began, as mentioned earlier, with the Qin Dynasty walls. These walls fell into disrepair over the years and the concept of state protection behind fortified walls to keep enemies out wasn’t resurrected until during the famous Ming Dynasty during the 14th century AD when long running problems with the Mongol tribes of both Outer and Inner Mongolia prompted the construction of much stronger walls — these were made out of stone, bricks and rammed earth and had an estimated 25,000 watchtowers and were especially strong in the area close to Beijing, which was the Ming capital.
The Great Wall was essential in protecting the Ming Dynasty Empire during the Manchu invasions that started in 1600 AD and continued until 1644, when the Manchu’s were victorious and the Ming Dynasty fell and was replaced by the Qing Dynasty instead. The Qing’s were pretty ferocious people and after a series of battles were able to add Mongolia to their empire and, as a direct result of this, the previously never ending maintenance of the Great Wall was no longer necessary, so parts of it resulted in a poor state.
During its incredibly long life, the Great Wall kept out raiders who were hungry for the fabled riches of China, was manned by millions of soldiers based in thousands of fortresses and fortified posts from which warning signals were passed down its length by use of fires and their smoke and by mirrors flashing coded signals. On some stretches of the wall, it was wide and strong enough for horsemen to gallop along en masse and for whole battalions of heavily armoured and armed troops to march, which must have been an imposing sight indeed.
Gates and other entrances through the walls also came in extremely useful as tax collection points as it was an easy matter to check what travellers and merchants were bringing in and out of the Empire and to impose customs dues accordingly.
Some sections of the Great Wall lying close to Beijing have been conserved and renovated in recent years and are visited by millions of both Chinese and foreign tourists each year, but other sections have either naturally fallen down or been taken down by people who have used the stones and bricks in localised construction work; other sections have been knocked down by construction companies as they were in the way of developments and yet others have been badly damaged by irresponsible vandals.
There have, over the years, been many claims that the Great Wall of China is clearly visible by the naked eye from space and even from the moon, but this is not true at all and it is even debatable whether or not it can be seen from a low earth orbit at an altitude of just 160 kilometres above the earth. Its visibility is hindered because of the natural nature of the materials used to construct it blend right back into the earth and stone from which it was constructed.
One astronaut, William Pogue, did claim to have spotted it from Skylab but later realised that what he could see was the Grand Canal of China close to Beijing. He could, however, see The Great Wall as well but only with the aid of extremely powerful binoculars. Photographs have been taken of the Great Wall of China from space but the cameras used were very powerful and not at all comparable to seeing this wonder with the naked eye.