Destination Landmarks: Great Wall of China

One of the seven Wonders of the Modern World, the Great Wall of China is virtually a representation of the country itself, on par perhaps with the Chinese panda. While it is not quite visible from space as the urban myth suggests, it is an essential part of any trip to China. The Great Wall is an impressive series of discrete structures built by many empires over many centuries. It consists of over almost 4,000 miles (6,400 km) of actual wall, over 200 miles (320 km) of trenches, and incorporates almost 1,500 miles (2,400 km) of natural barriers like rivers and hills.

Its roots lie in the Warring States period (8th to 5th century B.C.), when Chinese states built fortifications of gravel, earth and board on their borders. Few traces of these remain and it was only in the Ming era of the 14th century that the Chinese began construction of a wall to impede invading Mongol tribes. This stage is believed to have added over 25,000 watchtowers to the structure. The Great Wall is generally acknowledged as one of the greatest feats of human architecture ever undertaken. Up to half a million people, usually a combination of laborers, soldiers and convicts, worked on the Wall at one time. Due to the pressure to complete it as an urgent tool of defense, many of those who lost their lives in its construction were simply buried within the structure, earning it the moniker ‘longest cemetery on earth’ when it was being made. Most of the images that the name ‘Great Wall of China’ evoke are from the Ming period.

Contrary to the impression they give, large parts of the wall were constructed of mud and other materials susceptible to erosion. Some parts originally over 5 meters high have now been reduced to a height of less than 2 meters. Some parts have been rebuilt with concrete by the government, a decision met with widespread criticism. Other parts may not survive much longer recognizable as the impressive structures they once were. Now is the time to visit.

Best Time to Visit

Summer (May to August) is the peak tourist period so while the weather might be great, the crowds can make the experience less enjoyable. Spring in March to April, and autumn in the months of September to November are the best times to pay the Great Wall a visit. The former gives great views of colorful blooming flowers while the latter creates a wonderful kaleidoscope of golden hues.