What Travel Writers Say

China's Great Wall

© By Mike Keenan
  Politically, walls do not enjoy much popularity these days. When the Berlin Wall fell, it signaled the end of Soviet control, much to the delight of the West, which, of course, has walls of its own, a real one keeping Palestinians out of their homeland and an invisible one preventing U.S. access to Cuba for over four decades. In truth, there has only been one Great Wall, but first, let's resolve a myth. As of now, no astronaut, not even one of Chinese ancestry, has been able to view the Great Wall of China from distant space.
     Yes, it's quite long, stretching over 6,700 km (4,160 miles) in total, and serpentine, following the contours of steep hills and perhaps, for its day, an architectural wonder, considering that it was constructed as a long fortress in Northern China, then rebuilt and maintained several times between the 5th century BC and the 16th century to protect the Empire primarily from Xiongnu and Mongol attacks during various dynasties.
     Since the beginning then, several walls have been erected, collectively referred to as the Great Wall of China. The first Emperor, Qin Shi Huand built the most famous wall between 220-206 BC, but little remains, farther north than the current wall, built during the Ming Dynasty. A recent survey suggests that the entire Great Wall, with all branches, stretches for a grand total of 8,851.8 km (5,500.3 mi). At its peak, the Ming Wall was guarded by more than one million warriors; it's estimated that 2-3 million died during the centuries-long construction project, most buried inside the wall.
     Communications between army units along the formidable length and the need quickly to summon reinforcements as well as warn garrisons of enemy movements, was considered top priority, so signal towers were erected upon hill tops or other high points for visibility. These have disappeared.
     The most popular sites today can be visited in a single day from Beijing. Badaling and Juyongguan are nearest Beijing, and therefore among the most crowded sections of the Great Wall. Mutianyu is also close to Beijing, slightly less crowded than Badaling. It does provide a ski lift to get on and off the wall and a wheeled toboggan ride down a metal track, or you can simply hike a series of steps.
     Three locations are found 80 miles northeast of Beijing, but they are less crowded: Gubeikou, Jinshanling and Simatai. Bring your own water and other refreshments. The most authentic part of the wall is at Simatai as it's of original construction. You can hike from Jinshanling to Simatai. Most of the wall east of Jinshanling is un-restored. The hike from Jinshangling to Simatai is 10 km, but you are rewarded with spectacular views.

The Great Wall Of China  The Great Wall Of China  The Great Wall Of China  The Great Wall Of China  The Great Wall Of China 

     Tourists equipped with cameras may easily spend 2-5 hours along the wall, depending on individual fitness level and motivation. Be sure to wear comfortable shoes, for you will be hiking on bricks often combined with steep climbs. Along the way, you will encounter local vendors selling water and snacks along the wall.
     Descending from Simatai, there's is a zip line available for RMB 40. It carries you 400 m over a river, takes you to the other side and includes a short boat ride back so you can catch your ground transport.
     While some portions north of Beijing and near tourist centers have been preserved and even reconstructed, sadly, the Wall is in disrepair in many areas, a ready source of stones for locals to rebuild houses and roads. Some sections are prone to graffiti and vandalism.
     Tourists should be alert to bus scams and unnecessary organized tours costing 100-150 Yuan, advertised by vendors handing out leaflets around Beijing's Forbidden City. Actual bus service to the Great Wall costs only 20 Yuan.
Great Wall Timeline:
  •  Second Great Wall was built during the Han Dynasty, 205-127 BC.
  •  Third Great Wall was built during the Jin Dynasty, 1200 AD.
  •  Fourth Great Wall was built during the Ming Dynasty 1367-1644.

Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune and Niagara Falls Review. Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine. His work is found in QMI published dailies such as the Toronto Sun, Ottawa Sun, Vancouver Sun, London Free Press, Calgary Sun, Winnipeg Sun and Edmonton Sun.

Photo Credits
Chinese National Tourist Office

If you go
The Great Wall Of China
as seen on
Chinese National Tourist Office: http://www.cnto.org/
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Wall_Of_China
Wikitravel: http://wikitravel.org/en/Great_wall_of_china

What's happening, money, distance, time?
Media Guide: http://www.abyznewslinks.com/
Currency conversion: http://www.xe.com/ucc/
Distance calculator: http://www.indo.com/distance/
Time zone converter: http://www.timezoneconverter.com/

Transportation, visas, health, maps and temperature
Airlines (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_airlines
Embassies/Consulates (Embassy World): http://www.embassyworld.com/
Health precautions (WHO): http://www.who.int/ith/en/
Google interactive map: http://maps.google.com/
Temperature (Temperature World): http://www.temperatureworld.com/


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