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Great Wall of China Facts

Facts, Myths, History, and Interesting Tidbits

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Great Wall of China Facts

The top of the Great Wall was used as a highway network.

Photo by Greg Rodgers

The Great Wall of China, the longest man-made object on earth, is a top UNESCO World Heritage Site in Asia and a requisite for any trip to mainland China.

Read these interesting Great Wall of China facts before you visit; you may appreciate the impressive structure even more!

Is the Great Wall of China Visible from Space?

No. Despite the famous rumor that the Great Wall of China is the only man-made structure visible from space, astronauts disagree. Even Chinese textbooks have been rewritten to revoke the once-accepted claim to fame.

While many man-made objects -- including roads -- are visible from a low orbit, NASA says that entire continents blend together when viewed with the naked eye from both the moon and space. The Great Wall was constructed using local materials of similar color to the surrounding terrain, making it indistinguishable.

Is the Great Wall One Continuous Structure?

Absolutely not. The Great Wall is actually a discontinuous network of walls and pieces with spurs and offshoots. The sections were built over centuries; some were only connected by simple berms and earthworks. Calling the structure 'The Many Walls of China' just wouldn't have the same ring to it!

How Long is the Great Wall of China?

Because the Great Wall is made up of many segments, many of which have eroded or been destroyed, getting an accurate measurement is difficult. An additional 180 miles of the Wall, covered by sandstorms, were not discovered until 2009!

The most recent estimate puts the Wall at around 5,500 miles (8,851 kilometers) long.

Is the Great Wall One of the 7 Ancient Wonders of the World?

Despite the age and size, the Great Wall of China never made it onto the list of seven wonders. Perhaps that's a good thing: the only remaining ancient wonder that has not been destroyed is the Great Pyramid at Giza!

Did the Great Wall Protect China?

Unfortunately, the hard labor and monumental effort didn't quite pay off. The Great Wall never managed to keep out invaders from the north. In fact, Manchurian nomads managed to easily get around the wall and even controlled parts of China for 250 years.

Despite failing strategically, the Wall did serve as a highway system for moving troops and goods through tough terrain, and signal towers provided an important communication network.

How Old is the Great Wall of China?

Construction of early parts of the Wall began over 2,000 years ago, however, what we consider to be the Great Wall of China was built during the Ming Dynasty in the 14th century to keep out Mongol raiders.

Did the Enemies of China Destroy the Great Wall?

No. The most damage done to sections of the Great Wall came from farmers who took away fertile earth to use for planting. The shaped bricks and stones were salvaged from many sections of the wall and used to construct roads!

Villagers were encouraged to take materials from the Wall during China's Cultural Revolution.

Is it Possible to Hike Along the Great Wall?

Yes. Some adventurers have even walked or cycled the entire length of the Wall. Much of the Great Wall is in ruins, however, tour companies even offer opportunities to sleep atop less popular stretches of the Wall.

Many stretches of the Wall are closed off permanently for restoration work which will most likely never begin. The Chinese government has been criticized for preventing access not out of concern for the landmark, but to funnel tourists to more popular sections of the Wall where tacky souvenir stalls abound.

Other Interesting Great Wall of China Facts

  • Mao Zedong once said: "He who has not climbed the Great Wall is not a true man."
  • Wolf dung was burned by sentries along the wall to send smoke signals about enemy movements that were relayed back to leaders. Flags were also used to signal towers within eyesight.
  • Sections of the Great Wall are purported to contain the remains of workers who perished on the project. Despite the great loss of life while building the Wall, archaeologists have not uncovered human remains.
  • Sections of the Wall contain bullet holes from the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937 - 1945).
  • The Chinese invented the wheelbarrow and used it to move materials when building the Great Wall.
  • President Nixon's historic 1972 visit to China included a tour of the Great Wall at Badaling.
  • The Badaling stretch of the Great Wall, the section nearest to Beijing and the most visited, was used as the end of the cycling course for the 2008 Summer Olympics.
  • More than 25,000 watchtowers have been constructed along the Wall throughout history.
  • Being sent to work on the Wall -- an extremely dreaded sentence -- was used as a punishment for corrupt officials who fell out of favor of the court.
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