Essential Architecture-  Peking

Badaling Section of the Great Wall (World Heritage Site)

Great Wall- Juyongguan, Mutianyu , Mutianyu , Simatai  (candidate for the new seven wonders of the world)




Badaling, 50 miles northwest of Beijing city


mid-6th century


Ming Dynasty




protective wall
  Images copyright

The Great Wall in the winter

Great Wall of China shown in a map from 1805

The Great Wall (Traditional Chinese: 長城; Simplified Chinese: 长城; pinyin: Chángchén) is a series of stone and earthen fortifications in China, built between 5th century BC and the 17th century to protect the northern borders of the Chinese Empire during the rule of successive dynasties. The most recent set of fortifications dates from the Ming Dynasty, and its longest section stretches 6,352 km (3,948 miles) from Shanhai Pass in the east to Lop Nur in the west, along an arc that roughly delineates the southern edge of Inner Mongolia.[1] It is generally considered to be the longest man-made structure on earth.

An earlier wall was notably built by Qin Shi Huang during the Qin Dynasty between 220 BC and 200 BC, but little of this wall remains today and its exact length and course are uncertain.

Notable areas
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Most tourists visit the part of the wall in the “North Pass” of Juyongguan pass, known as the Badaling. When used by the Chinese to protect their land, this wall was well-manned by guards so as to guard China’s capital, Beijing. However, Badaling is very difficult to access. Made out of stone and bricks from the hills, this portion of the Great Wall is 7.8 meters high and 5 meters wide.

Representing the Ming Great Wall, Jinshanling is considered to have the most striking sights of the Great Wall. It runs 11 kilometers long, ranges from 5 to 8 meters in height, and 6 meters across the bottom, narrowing up to 5 meters across the top. Wangjinglou is one of Jinshanling’s 67 watchtowers, rising 980 meters above sea level.

Shanhaiguan Great Wall is referred to as the “Museum of the Construction of the Great Wall”, because of a temple, the Meng Jiang-Nu Temple, built during the Song Dynasty. The Shanhaiguan Great Wall is known for many different things, both with the construction of the wall and also its history.

The first pass of the Great Wall was located on the Shanhaiguan (known as the “Number One Pass Under Heaven”), the first mountain the Great Wall climbs, Jia Shan, is also located here, as is the Jiumenkou, which is the only portion of the wall that was built as a bridge.

Before the use of bricks, the Great Wall was mainly built from earth, stones and wood. Transporting the large quantity of materials required for construction was difficult, so builders always tried to use local resources. Over the mountain ranges, the stones of the mountain were exploited and used; while in the plains, earth was rammed into solid blocks to be used in construction.

Before the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC) because earth buildings could withstand the strength of small arms such as swords and spears, combined with low technology of productivity, the Great Wall was primarily built by stamping earth between board frames. Consequently walls were built consisting of just earth or a mixture of earth and gravel. No fortresses were constructed along the wall, and no bricks were used in the gates at the wall's passes. Much of these sections have eroded away. During the time following the Han Dynasty (202-220 AD) earth and crude stones remained common building tools.

Bricks were heavily used in many areas of the wall during the Ming Dynasty, as well as materials such as tiles, lime, and stone. Bricks were easier to work with than earth and stone as their small size and light weight made them convenient to carry and augmented construction speed. Additionally, they could bear more weight and retain their integrity better than rammed earth. Stone, though more difficult to use, can better hold well under its own weight than brick. Consequently, stones cut in rectangular shapes were used for the foundation, inner and outer brims, and gateways of the wall.

The steps that form the Great Wall of China are very steep and tall in some areas of the wall. Tourists often become exhausted climbing the wall, and traverse no more than a mile because of this reason. Along the wall on either side, are “holes” where the builders of the Great Wall didn’t place any bricks. They are a little over a foot tall, and about 9 inches in width. These holes were used to shoot arrows out of when being attacked.


The Great Wall at Mutianyu, near Beijing

While some portions near tourist centers have been preserved and even reconstructed, in many locations the Wall is in disrepair, serving as a playground for some villages and a source of stones to rebuild houses and roads. Sections of the Wall are also prone to graffiti and vandalism. Parts have been destroyed because the Wall is in the way of construction sites. Intact or repaired portions of the Wall near developed tourist areas are often plagued with hawkers of tourist kitsch. After one of the many runs for charity along the Great Wall, H.J.P Arnold questioned several runners about the status of the wall. A typical response was "The wall was clearly discernible and only moderately eroded along 22% of the run. The Wall was usually discernible but frequently broken/eroded 41% of the run, and scarcely discernible and almost totally eroded 37% of the run."

Watchtowers and barracks


The wall is complemented by defensive fighting stations, to which wall defenders may retreat if overwhelmed. With more than 10,000 watch towers (which were used to store weapons, house troops, and send smoke signals), each tower has unique and restricted stairways and entries to confuse attackers. Barracks and administrative centers are located at larger intervals.

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.


The Great Wall of China in 1907, as photographed by Herbert Ponting. Over the centuries, there had been a number of attempts to build some sort of fortification or earthworks along this route, but the wall that appears here was built during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).
The Wall was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.

Mao Zedong had a saying, traditional Chinese: Bú dào Chángchéng fēi hǎo hàn, roughly meaning "You're not a real man if you haven't climbed the Great Wall". Originally this saying was used to bolster his revolution in trekking north. But due to erosion of time the saying has been reduced to a promotional slogan for the Great Wall of China. In Badaling (north of Beijing) the 'real man stone' can be found with the saying engraved in it.

From outer space

Richard Halliburton's 1938 book Second Book of Marvels said the Great Wall is the only man-made object visible from the moon, and a Ripley's Believe It or Not! cartoon from the same decade makes a similar claim. This belief has persisted, assuming urban legend status, sometimes even entering school textbooks. Arthur Waldron, author of the most authoritative history of the Great Wall, has speculated that the belief might go back to the fascination with the "canals" once believed to exist on Mars. (The logic was simple: If people on Earth can see the Martians' canals, the Martians might be able to see the Great Wall.)

The Great Wall of China as seen in a false-color radar image from the Space Shuttle, taken in April 1994

In fact, the Great Wall is only 30 feet tall and is about the same color as the soil surrounding it. It cannot be seen by the unaided eye from the distance of the moon, much less from Mars. If the Great Wall were visible from the moon, it would be easy to see from near-Earth orbit, but from near-Earth orbit it is barely visible, and only under nearly perfect conditions; it is no more conspicuous than many other manmade objects.

Astronaut William Pogue thought he had seen it from Skylab but discovered he was actually looking at the Grand Canal of China near Beijing. He spotted the Great Wall with binoculars, but said that "it wasn't visible to the unaided eye." US Senator Jake Garn claimed to be able to see the Great Wall with the naked eye from a space shuttle orbit in the early 1980s, but his claim has been disputed by several US astronauts. Chinese astronaut Yang Liwei said he could not see it at all.

Veteran US astronaut Gene Cernan has stated: "At Earth orbit of 160 km to 320 km high, the Great Wall of China is, indeed, visible to the naked eye." Ed Lu, Expedition 7 Science Officer aboard the International Space Station, adds that, "it's less visible than a lot of other objects. And you have to know where to look."

Neil Armstrong stated about the view from Apollo 11: "I do not believe that, at least with my eyes, there would be any man-made object that I could see. I have not yet found somebody who has told me they've seen the Wall of China from Earth orbit. ... I've asked various people, particularly Shuttle guys, that have been many orbits around China in the daytime, and the ones I've talked to didn't see it." [2]

Leroy Chiao, a Chinese-American astronaut, took a photograph from the International Space Station that shows the wall. It was so indistinct that the photographer was not certain he had actually captured it. Based on the photograph, the state-run China Daily newspaper concluded that the Great Wall can be seen from space with the naked eye, under favorable viewing conditions, if one knows exactly where to look [3].

These inconsistent results suggest the visibility of the Great Wall depends greatly on the seeing conditions, and also the direction of the light (oblique lighting widens the shadow). Features on the moon that are dramatically visible at times can be undetectable at other times due to changes in lighting direction; the same would be true of the Great Wall.

Based on the optics of resolving power (distance versus the width of the iris: a few millimetres for the human eye, metres for large telescopes) an object of reasonable contrast to its surroundings some four thousand miles in diameter (such as the Australian land mass) would be visible to the unaided eye from the moon. But the Great Wall is of course not a disc but more like a thread, and a thread a foot long would not be visible from a hundred yards away, even though a human head is.

Badaling is the site of the most visited section of the Great Wall of China, approximately 50 miles northwest of Beijing city within the Beijing municipality. The portion of the wall running through the site was built during the Ming Dynasty, along with a military outpost reflecting the location's strategic importance.

The portion of the wall at Badaling has undergone heavy restoration, and in 1957 it was the first section of the wall to open to tourists. Now visited annually by millions, the immediate area has seen significant development, including hotels, restaurants, and a cable car. The recently completed Badaling Expressway connects Badaling with Beijing city.

It was here that President Richard Nixon and his wife, accompanied by Vice Premier Li Xianniàn, visited on February 24, 1972, during his historic journey to China.


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