The Great Wall of China, the largest man-made project in the world, is a series of ancient fortifications built in northern China. Although named the 'wall', it is an integrated defense system including not only lofty and solid walls, but also massive signal towers, barriers, barracks, garrison stations, and fortresses along the walls, together forming an insurmountable line, for thousands of years, to protect the territories of ancient Chinese states against the nomadic tribes from the northern steppe. This long wall, just like a gigantic dragon, winds up and down across deserts, grasslands, mountains and plateaus, stretching approximately 21,196 kilometers from west to east of China.
Renowned as a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1987 and one of the Seven Wonders of the Medieval World, the Great Wall of China is not just 'medieval'. Early in the 7th century BC, several ancient states built their own boundary walls, which were later connected by Qin Shi Huang (259 – 210BC), the First Emperor of China, and known as the '10,000-li Long Wall'. In the following 2,000 years, many dynasties continued to consolidate and extend the Great Wall, for not only defense, but also border trade management, imposing tariffs, and immigration control.
The Great Wall's military use faded away, but now as an unparalleled architectural feat with historical significance, it is certainly the No. 1 iconic attraction in China. There are wall remains found in 15 provinces of China. The well-preserved sections we see today were mainly built during the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644), among which the most popular are around Beijing, including Badaling, Mutianyu, Juyongguan, and Simatai. A day tour or a long hike along the Great Wall allows you to travel back in time to feel the thousands of years’ vicissitudes and the ethos of the ancient Kingdom of China.
Where is the Great Wall of China located?
Location: north China, East Asia
Total Length: 21,196.18 kilometers (13,170.70 miles), half of the length of the equator
Length of Ming Great Wall: 8,851.8 kilometers (5,500.3 miles)
West End: the First Fire Tower of the Great Wall, in Jiayuguan of Gansu
East End: Hushan Great Wall, in Dandong of Liaoning
Course & Coverage: 15 provinces and regions, roughly from east to west – Heilongjiang, Jilin, Liaoning, Hebei, Beijing, Tianjin, Shandong, Henan, Shanxi, Shaanxi, Inner Mongolia, Ningxia, Gansu, Qinghai, Xinjiang.
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Which Section of Great Wall to Visit
The official survey by the National Cultural Heritage Administration of China reveals that Inner Mongolia, Hebei, and Shanxi are the top three regions boasting the most Great Wall relics. The walls, crossing 26 degrees of longitude, and not machine-made, appear in totally diversified status and sceneries. Generally the walls in east China are kept in good condition, while those in the wild northwest have been heavily weathered or damaged.
Beijing, owning only 5.38% of all the wall relics throughout China, has the quintessence of the Ming Great Wall. The best-preserved and most-visited sections are generally within 130 km north of downtown Beijing.
First-time visitors to Beijing: Badaling, or Mutianyu
Return visitors: Juyongguan, or Simatai (with Gubei Water Town)
Experienced hikers: Jiankou (wild and dangerous)
Best sections out of Beijing: Shanhaiguan in Hebei, Jiayuguan in Gansu, Zhenbeitai in Shaanxi