Explore timeless wonders of the ‘Great Wall of China,’ built over 2500 years

By Théophile Niyitegeka
On 23 April 2024 at 10:54

"He who has never been to the Great Wall is not a true man." So goes the spirited Chinese adage that not only underscores the monumental status of the Great Wall of China but also tickles the fancy of those who hear it.

Comprising many interconnected walls, this grand structure is not only an emblem of resilience and architectural genius stretching across vast landscapes, but also a narrative woven into the fabric of Chinese culture and history.

The Great Wall was declared one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in 2007. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recognized it as the largest man-made structure on Earth.

This colossal structure, spanning more than 20,000 kilometers, not only showcases ancient China’s military brilliance but also serves as a testament to the indomitable spirit of its people.

For travelers and historians alike, the Wall offers a unique blend of scenic beauty and a deep dive into the rich tapestry of Chinese history.

Originating in the 7th century B.C., the Great Wall was primarily a defense mechanism against invasions. Over centuries, it was expanded and fortified by various dynasties, making it one of the most extensive construction projects ever undertaken.

The Wall’s strategic importance was highlighted during early Chinese resistance against Japanese aggression in 1933, where it served as a battleground and a symbol of national pride.

To undertake the monumental task of building, maintaining, and restoring the walls, millions of people were recruited, some mandatorily.

Often, laborers had to manually transport large stones and hefty bricks to elevated mountain ridges, lacking the aid of powerful or advanced machinery in ancient times.

The precise tally of fatalities during the construction remains uncertain, yet historical accounts reveal that exhaustion, hunger, and accidents resulted in numerous deaths.

Each year, the Wall attracts millions of visitors from across the globe. Some of prominent global leaders who visited this wall, include former US Presidents, Barack Obama and George W. Bush; Queen Elizabeth II, late monarch of the United Kingdom; Vladimir Putin, the current President of Russia; and Nelson Mandela, former President of South Africa, among others.

It begins at the eastern seaboard and extends to the remote western deserts, winding through 404 towns in 15 provincial regions throughout northern and central China.

Beijing, the heart of China’s imperial history, houses approximately 520 kilometers of the Wall’s sections.

The Wall encompasses several well-preserved sections like Juyongguan, Badaling, Huanghuacheng, Jiankou, Mutianyu, Gubeikou, Jinshanling, and Simatai, each telling its own story of the past.

Juyongguan, or Juyong Pass, is particularly notable. Nestled in the 18-kilometer-long Guangou Valley (more than 50 kilometers from Beijing), this pass has been a key military fortress since the Qin Dynasty.

Known as one of the Great Wall’s three greatest mountain passes, alongside Jiayu Pass and Shanhai Pass, Juyongguan’s strategic significance is matched by its stunning natural surroundings.

The Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) marked the peak of Great Wall construction, with walls built of sturdy bricks and lime mortar, reinforced with rectangular stone slabs stretching nearly 9,000km.

This period resulted in some of the most formidable and aesthetically appealing segments of the Wall, particularly those north of Beijing. The Great Wall believed to have been built in 220 Before Christ (B.C) is about 7m high and 6m wide.

Beyond its physical form, the Great Wall symbolizes more than just a series of fortifications. It includes a network of watchtowers, fortresses, and guardhouses, each piece playing a crucial role in the defense of the empire. The Wall also embodies the collective effort, determination, and sacrifice of countless individuals who built and defended it through the ages.

The Wall’s inclusion in the national anthem underscores its importance as a cultural and spiritual symbol of the Chinese nation. It has witnessed the patriotism, solidarity, and strength of the Chinese people, enduring as a proud testament to their enduring spirit.

Visiting the Great Wall is akin to walking through pages of history. Each step on its weathered stones evokes images of ancient soldiers standing guard over the rugged terrain, vigilant against invaders. The experience is immersive, allowing one to not only witness but also feel the legacy of China’s past.

The Juyongguan Pass has exhibition areas where visitors learn about history of the Great Wall.
Juyong Pass, a vital defensive barrier for Beijing, has been the site of numerous pivotal battles throughout Imperial China.
Climbing the Great Wall demands determination. Here, a tourist gracefully ascends the stairs at Juyongguan Great Wall with cat-like precision
Climbing the Great Wall demands determination. Here, a tourist gracefully ascends the stairs at Juyongguan Great Wall with cat-like precision
Schoolchildren also visit the Great Wall to explore and learn outside the classroom, marveling at its historical significance.
From the top watchtowers, one can enjoy panoramic views of the surrounding landscape.
One of watchovers at the Great Wall overlooking the Juong Pass.
Immortalized in the national anthem, the Great Wall symbolizes the spirit of the Chinese nation, epitomizing the patriotism, unity, and strength of its people.
The Great Wall has a network of watchtowers.
Diverse groups of people are seen ascending the Juyongguan section of the Great Wall.
Visitors climbing the Juyongguan section of the Great Wall in Beijing, the capital of China.
The Great Wall played a significant role in the early Chinese resistance during the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression.
Some visitors take a moment to rest midway through their hike up the Great Wall before continuing their journey.
The Great Wall ignites joy and leaves indelible memories among visitors.
Nestled among expansive mountain ranges, the Great Wall stretches impressively.
the Juyongguan Great Wall served as a critical connection between inland China and its northern border.
Nestled amidst towering mountains, the Juyongguan Great Wall offers a breathtaking setting for its visitors.
Visitors must ascend a series of stairs to reach the summit.
Each step on the Great Wall brings visitors closer to understanding China's imperial history.
Restroom facilities are accessible for visitors at the Great Wall.
The Great Wall provides an exciting blend of adventure and historical education about China.
Despite the arduous trek, tourists persistently make their way to the top watchtower of the Great Wall.
Climbers reaching the peak often celebrate by taking photographs as souvenirs.
A visitor posing for a photo after reaching the top watchtower at Juyongguan Great Wall.
Originally built during the Ming Dynasty, the Juyongguan Great Wall has undergone numerous reconstructions.
Juyongguan Great Wall is renowned as one of the three most famous passes along the Great Wall of China.
Arduous trek does not refrain visitors from taking photos of souvenirs.

Photos: Théophile Niyitegeka / Beijing, China