The Great Wall of China: The Greatest Example of Human Splendor on Earth

The Great Wall of China symbolizes the aspirations of the Chinese nation, its ability par excellence and illustrious history of achievements. Spread over 5,500 miles of grasslands, plateaus, mountains, deserts and rivers, the biggest structure on earth epitomizes the greatness of human endeavor.

Listed as one of the greatest wonders and a World Heritage, a gigantic dragon-shape wall was witness to 2,000 years of Chinese history that saw many ups and downs. Originally conceived a defensive platform against invaders, the Great Wall of China has become an architectural marvel, tourist wonder, icon of national identity and above all the showcase of human enterprise.

The History of the Great Wall

The Qin Great Wall

The Chinese were aware of wall fortification techniques around 700 BC. Yan, Zhao, Qin, Qi and Wei states had their own walls to protect people from the invading army. In 221 BC, Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor, came to power. He planned a permanent defensive structure to prevent recurring invasions from the north by Xiongnu tribesmen. This led to start of the Great Wall construction. The enterprise has two objects, building new fortifications at vulnerable places and strengthening the existing state walls to connect them with newly built parts.

At the end of Qin rule, the wall extended from Lintao in Gansu Province to the eastern periphery of modern Liaoning Province covering many parts of the Inner Mongolia.

The Han Great Wall

The Han Dynasty continued the fortification and the present Great Wall of China took a concrete form. It was extended up to Yinshan Mountain covering 5,000 miles in length and encompassing the existing Qin wall, the Hexi corridor, Niangziguan Pass near Shanxi, Yangguan Pass in the west and Yanmenguan and Yumenguan Passes in the north. The purpose of the wall building was to strengthen the frontier defense and deter invading Hun armies. Almost half of the Silk Road falling in China was now under the watchful eye of soldiers guarding the Great Wall.

The Ming Era Great Wall

Great Wall of China

The Ming Dynasty came to power following overthrown of the Mongol-led Yuan rulers. They had to fight incessant wars with Mongols, Dadan, Tufan and Manchus. They focused on building and strengthening the Great Wall after the Mongols established strong presence in the Ordos Desert. Brick and stones were used in large scale to make strong fortifications and as many as 25,000 towers were constructed.

The process started by the first of the line and continued until the last Ming ruler. Special consideration was given to wall portions near capital Beijing and they were built with stronger materials. The Great Wall then extended from the Lop Lake on the western fringe of the Taklamakan Desert to Shanhaiguan of Hebei Province in the east. It meets the Yellow Sea at the Shanhai Pass.

Characteristics of the Great Wall

The Great Wall of China was conceived as a defensive structure to protect Han homeland against invasion of tribes from north. It served the purpose only partially. Since the third century AD, the tribes breached it continuously at weak points or passes though at the cost of bloody battles. During the Song rule, Jin tribesmen breached the structure and occupied the north China. The Mongols war machine swept over the Great Wall and ruled China for a century. The wall also fell to prevent Manchus who occupied China in 1644 and established the Qing Dynasty, the last of the imperial line.

Asymmetric construction has become the key feature of the Great Wall, as it was constructed over a period of 2,000 years. Prior to the Ming wall, the most portions of it was created using local materials, such as earth, wood and stone. During the Ming period, scientific construction with high-grade material led to strong walls. Watchtowers were also added. The last leg also saw the structure gaining in height and width to facilitate defensive battlements and troop movements. The Mings added as many as 25,000 towers that housed troops, signal centers and watch towers.

The dragon-shaped vast structure was said to be the last object on earth to be visible from the space. The Great Wall provided the Han culture a distinct homeland and identity. It defined the essence of Chinese nationhood giving it an identity. The wall construction also witnessed the architectural progress of different dynasties and embodied them. Many Chinese folk stories are also developed surrounding the Great Wall.

Read more about locations and cities in ancient China

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