The Great Wall of China – History & Facts

Just like the pyramids in Egypt, a look at the Great Wall of China reminds us that ancient civilizations had a far more wonderful technology and ingenuity than we give them credit for. The Great Wall served as a long defensive fortification in China against tribes in the north that sought to encroach into China.

Construction of this Chinese pride landmark started in the 3rd Century BC. Today, we celebrate the Great Wall of China as one of the most noticeable landmarks in our world. You can find the wall along the line from east to west across the northern borders of China. The ancient Chinese emperors thought it wise to protect their states and empires from external invasions. This wasn’t a lame idea if you consider the fact that airplanes weren’t invented at that time.

History of the Wall

The Great Wall

China’s first Emperor Qin Shi Huang linked and fortified several small walls in the north of China, forming a long wall that ultimately became the Great Wall of China.

China actually built a lot of walls in the early parts of the 7th century BC. Between 220 and 206 BC, the walls were linked together and reinforced by the first emperor of China – Qin Shi Huang. Successive emperors did not desert the good wall initiative. They repaired and maintained it. More sections were even built in addition. The Ming Dynasty built the majority of the well-known border walls.

The Great Wall did not only act as a protective barrier, but it also allowed the Chinese to check the flow of goods across their borders. They could impose duties on goods transported through the Silk Road. Mention can also be made of the wall’s role in checking immigration and emigration.

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Dimensions of the Wall

Using state-of-the-art surveying techniques and equipment, surveyors have concluded that the length of walls built by the Ming Dynasty measures approximately 8850 km (5500 miles). Out of that number, 6259 km (3889 miles) is the length of the actual wall. 359 km (223 miles) of it is made up of trenches. Natural barriers such as rivers and hills measure 2232 km (1387 miles). Other archaeological surveys found that the entire length of the wall (including its network of branches) stretches up to 21196 km (13171 miles). When combined, the walls extend from Dandong to Lop Lake.

Other names of the Wall

There are historical records from China which refer to the wall as the Long Ramparts. Past Chinese emperors have called the wall frontiers or barriers. During Qing’s era, the term Long Wall also meant the Great Wall. It is common in Europe to hear names such as Chinese Wall which still refers to the Great Wall of China.

Technical Characteristics and Engineering

The Great Wall of China

The Great Wall was constructed using materials like stones, bricks, wood, and tamped earth.

The wall was built with stones, tamped earth, bricks, wood, and other materials. Before the advent of bricks, the wall was primarily built with tamped earth, stones, and wood. It was during Ming’s reign that bricks were heavily employed to construct it. The bricks had an advantage in height and weight. Construction work with bricks became faster as compared to the usage of stones and earth.

Additionally, bricks could withstand more weight compared to rammed earth. Technically, stones could endure weight more than bricks. However, working with stones could prove more tedious. Manual labor was employed to work on the walls; not machines. Rectangular stones were mostly used for the foundation, the gates, the internal and external brims.

The uppermost part of most of the walls was lined with battlement (an indented parapet). Defensive gaps (30 cm tall and 23 cm wide) were also left. The Great Wall wasn’t only a wall, It boasts of a lot of protective features. Parts of the wall housed military barracks, garrison stations, and watchtowers. On the hilltops, signal towers were constructed to gain an advantage in visibility. It was important for army units at different stages of the wall to be able to communicate and alert each other about approaching enemies. The wall also had wooden gates that could be used to trap intruders going through it.

Read More: Timeline of Ancient China

Current Condition of the Wall

In order to attract tourists, parts of the wall close to the Chinese capital, Beijing have been renovated. Some remote parts of the wall remain in tatters, serving as playgrounds or sources of stones for construction purposes. People take pleasure in inscribing their names on the walls. In 2012, a report concluded that about 22% of the walls constructed by Ming had disintegrated.

It has been estimated that in 20 years’ time, erosion from sandstone is expected to chip off over 60 km of the Wall in Gansu. The height of the wall in some places has reduced by more than half.

The Wall’s alleged visibility from space

There have been a lot of unsubstantiated claims by some space explorers and writers that the wall of China could be seen from space (the moon). Not much evidence has confirmed these myths. None of the moon astronauts ever made this claim. Optical calculations regarding the dimensions of the wall and its distance from the moon reveal a narrow chance that a moon astronaut can peer down and pinpoint the Great Wall.

In spite of the impossibility of seeing the Great Wall from the moon, astronauts who went to low earth orbits (altitudes around 150 km above earth surface) have reported seeing the wall. The best argument is that they saw it with cameras; not with an unaided eye.

Interesting facts about the Great Wall of China

Great Wall of China

History and facts about the Great Wall of China

  • Majority of the human labor that built the wall were soldiers and convicts.
  • About 400 thousand workers died during the construction of the wall. However, some historians claim that the number was around one million deaths. Many were buried within the wall.
  • The Great Wall is one of the best architectural ancient designs in history.
  • Parts of the wall were destroyed during the construction of new roads.
  • The Great Wall is a national pride for the Chinese.

Magnificent! Majestic! Intimidating! Glorious! Aside from being awe-struck, these are some of the adjectives that millions of annual visitors often use to describe the Great Wall of China. Undoubtedly, this monumental wonder will continue to elicit even stronger emotions for centuries to come.


FACT CHECK: At, we strive for utmost accuracy and objectivity. But if you come across something that doesn’t look right, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below.

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