The Great wall is definitely one of China's most legendary and breathtaking sights. It was built mainly to protect the Chinese Empire from the Mongolians and other invaders. Though successive Chinese dynasties all had a hand in repairing, re-building, lengthening, modifying and preserving the Great Wall, Qinshi Huang is the emperor who is credited for linking them all up and unifying China. The Great Wall twists and winds along hill crests, gorges, and rivers. Its length extends over 6,000 km westward: from the China Sea town of Shanhaiguan to Jiayuguan in the Gobi Desert. Ancient records reported that at least one million slaves and prisoners of war were used to build this wall. Many laborers died from exhaustion and starvation while working on this colossal task. Their bodies were added to the rubble and masonry as the quickest means of disposal. For centuries, the Wall was known as "the longest cemetery in the world."
"He who has not climbed the Great Wall is not a true man" - Chairman Mao
Wear comfortable footwear for walking. Some parts of the Great Wall are very steep and could be slippery. Climb as far as you like but please remember that you'll have to walk back to where you started. Tired? Have a highly enjoyable and relaxing foot massage for a fraction of the South African price or enjoy life as the locals do at a spa complex.
Warning: Never go for organized tours to the Great Wall that are advertised by people handing out flyers around the Forbidden City. It is guaranteed to waste your entire day. Conveniently you are picked up from your hotel (so they know where to get back at you, in case you will not pay), you end up on a shopping tour through many many Chinese art, China, Chinese medicine, etc. shops and afterwards you have to pay upfront to get back to the city.
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Which part of the Great Wall to visit...?
When we visit China...we go to the Great Wall at Beijing...and in this region there are several sections of the Great Wall one can visit. They vary somewhat in distance from the city, but this also dictates how busy they get on any one day. The are seven major sections outside Beijing where one can view the Wall...but our preferred choice is the Wall at Mutianyu, because it is way less crowded than the other sections...and because the Wall is beautifully preserved out there too.
...and this is the Great Wall at Mutianyu...
Mutianyu is a bit further from Beijing, but it's well worth going the extra distance. No crowds here...and the scenery is just sublime! It is documented that this section of the Great Wall was built under the supervision of General Xu Da of Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang, in the early Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). In 1987 it was selected as one of the '16 Top Beijing Scenes' and in 2001, Mutianyu was acknowledged as an AAAA tourist resort, for it showed the best part of the Great Wall.
...while here's the Wall at Badaling...
...where we don't take you because, well...look for yourself!
No prizes for guessing why we don't take you to Badaling outside Beijing. Badaling is one of the closest section of the Wall to Beijing...and you can see how popular it is here. We believe in offering a considerably less "human" experience...rather placing emphasis on the aesthetic aspects...so we take you a bit furher from Beijing to Mutianyu. Many tour operators settle for Badaling, but our clients prefer our choice of venue.
Both north of Beijing...
Mutianyu Vs. Badaling
The Great Wall at Badaling (top left) outside Beijing is served by major highways (1.5 hours), so it's one of the most popular places for visitors. We have opted for a far better experience at Mutianyu (centre top) which, because there are no highways, takes about an hour longer to reach (2.5 hours) ...but it's well worth it in the end.
Unfortunately, the Ming Tombs and Sacred way is on the way to Badaling. It will be too rushed to visit the Ming Tombs and Sacred way when you're visiting Mutianyu Great Wall.
Mutianyu Great Wall...space to take it all in...
Do observe the Wall's many signal towers...which reflect how communication between the army units along the length of the Great Wall (including the ability to call reinforcements and warn garrisons of enemy movements) was of high importance. Signal towers were built upon hill tops or other high points along the wall for their visibility...and were placed no further that "two arrow shots" apart to sustain full control. This is no mere barricade...there is much to ponder when in situ...and the whole story is very complex indeed.
Do you want to know a bit more?...in a nutshell...
The Great Wall of China is a series of fortifications running in general east to west through the entire northern part of China. Experts have concluded that all the walls measure just short of 9,000 kilometres. Most of the ancient walls have eroded away over the centuries, and very few original sections remain today.
The Wall was built originally to protect the northern borders of the Chinese Empire against intrusions by various nomadic groups or military incursions. The defensive characteristics of the Great Wall were enhanced by the construction of watch towers, troop barracks, garrison stations, signaling capabilities through the means smoke or fire.
Several walls had already been begun to be built beginning around the 7th century BC...and these, later joined together and made bigger, stronger, and unified are now collectively referred to as the Great Wall. Especially famous is the wall built between 220-206 BC by the first Emperor China, Qin Shi Huang. Little of that wall remains. Since then, the Great Wall has on and off been rebuilt, maintained, enhanced; the majority of the existing wall was reconstructed during the Ming Dynasty. Built to withstand the attack of small arms such as swords and spears, these walls were made mostly by stamping earth and gravel between board frames.
THE FIRST EMPEROR'S NEW WALL
China's First Emperor, Qin Shi Huang, conquered all opposing states and unified China in 221 BC, establishing the Qin Dynasty. Imposing centralized rule and preventing the resurgence of feudal lords, he ordered the destruction of the wall sections that divided his empire along the former state borders. To protect against intrusions from the north, he ordered the building of a new wall to connect the remaining fortifications along the empire's new northern frontier.
The First Emperor is also the same man who ordered the construction of an underground 'spirit army' to protect him for eternity at Xi'an. The Army of Terracotta Warriors is now as popular with visitors as the Great Wall itself.
Later dynasties all repaired, rebuilt, or expanded sections of the Great Wall at great cost to defend themselves against northern invaders. The Tang and Song dynasties did not build any walls in the region. The Liao, Jin and Yuan dynasties, who ruled Northern China throughout most of the 10-13th centuries, had their original power bases north of the Great Wall proper; accordingly, they would have no need throughout most of their history to build a wall along this line.
REVIVED DURING THE MING DYNASTY
Towards the end of the Ming Dynasty, the Great Wall helped defend the empire against the Manchu invasions that began around 1600. The Manchus were finally able to cross the Great Wall in 1644, and quickly seized Beijing, and defeated both the rebel-founded Shun Dynasty, and the remaining Ming resistance, establishing the Qing Dynasty rule over all of China.