Top 15 Fascinating Facts about the Great Wall of China
A familiar, if not pervasive, landmark, the Great Wall of China is one of the
most famous landmarks in the world. Stretching across northern China, this
masterpiece of ancient construction stretches for thousands of miles, passing
through ten cities or provinces – some of which include Mongolia, Qinghai,
Liaoning, Tianjin, Beijing, Hebel, and Inner Mongolia. Built over a period that
spans thousands of years, the section constructed during the Ming Dynasty is
made up of 7,062 lookouts, just over 720 beacon towers, and close to 3,360
walled platforms. The Wall, itself, is believed to have been created to protect
ancient peoples from raids from northern nomadic tribes.
Referred to in Chinese as Wan Li Chang Chen, The Great Wall is now one of the
main reasons people visit China annually. Approximately 10 million tourists
visit the wall each year to see the great landmark – a structure that is a
testament to the civilization, art, and culture of the Chinese.
15) The Great Wall Is Not a Single Wall
While, the landmark is known as the “Great Wall,” the structure is actually
comprised of sectioned walls and fortifications, with each section built during
large periods of time.
The first sections of the wall were built when China was made up of fledgling
feudal states while other sections were constructed when the country became more
unified. Original sections of the walls were connected as the empire grew.
While some of the wall’s areas are linked with one another by stone and
brick, other parts may be joined only by hill forts – earthworks made up of
straw, sand and dirt for protection. Besides the sectioned walls, the “Great
Wall” also features spurs, branches and offshoots as well, making the whole
network rather complex as a whole.
14) The Great Wall Is Actually A Series of Walls, Fortifications, and Towers
Needless to say, the Great Wall of China is no simple wall or defensive
structure. Instead, the structure is considered, historically and
archaeologically, to be a complicated military installation – designed primarily
to garrison armies so they could keep a vigil against enemy attacks. Fortresses
in the wall were built at strategic points in order to provide protection for
people living in towns, along fords, and close to mountain passes.
In fact, thousands of watchtowers dot the length of the Wall, many of which
served multiple functions during ancient times. Besides acting as lookout
points, the watchtowers also served holding areas for the housing of troops or
for the storing of supplies. The towers also served as signal stations so that
the soldiers guarding the area could send out alerts of attacks.
More Fortifications Along the Wall:
The Great Wall, in its time, was also utilized as a highway. The majority of
the walls making up the structure range from 15 to 30 feet wide, all which
permitted the easy passage of troops or couriers from one section to another.
Where the terrain was difficult to navigate, use of the wall sped up travel to a
13) The Great Wall is So Long That No One Has Been Able To Determine Its
Because the Great Wall was built over a span of several centuries, or a
couple thousand years, the actual length is extremely difficult to determine.
Plus, determining the length is contingent upon how the wall is measured. If you
add the offshoots to the structure, the Wall's total length increases
substantially. Not only that, new walls were sometimes built parallel to older
walls, which does nothing to clarify the measurement.
Hikers Walking Along One of These Offshoots:
Measuring the Great Wall today is also complicated by the fact that part of
the structure is now in ruins. As a result, obtaining an exact measurement
becomes an impossible task. A 2009 mapping study, using GPS and infrared
technology, showed that roughly 180 miles of the wall had been buried by sand
storms as well as other natural processes.
According to recent studies though, scientists estimate that the remaining
Wall is around 5,500 miles long. However, if the length of the entire defensive
system is tallied, the length of the Wall is estimated to be an astounding
31,070 miles long! That measurement is over 6,200 miles longer than the
circumference of the Earth.
12) The Great Wall Took 2,000 Years to Build
It took workers over 2,000 years
to build the Great Wall of China. The first part of the wall was first built in
the 6th and 7th centuries BC with the final parts of the wall completed from the
14th through 17th centuries.
Therefore, the earliest defensive walls in northern China date from about 700
BC. They were built by people in individual states which ruled the region at the
time, including the Chu, Qi, Wei, Han, Zhao, Yan, and Qin nations. Collectively,
these areas were known as the "Warring States" during this period of conflict in
After the Warring period, during the 2nd century BC, Qin Shi Huang, ruler of
the western Qin state, unified the warring states into the first Chinese empire.
During this time period, the emperor worked at linking the previous defensive
fortifications and walls into one cohesive fortress – all which served to
safeguard the country from nomadic attacks from the north. Armies were stationed
along the structure to defend people from attack, with signal fires used to call
in any needed reinforcements.
As time progressed, later dynasties improved and extended the fortification,
constructing new walls as new territories were usurped or fortifications were
replaced. The construction was continuous throughout the Ming Dynasty, which
ruled over China from 1368 to 1644 AD. In fact, most of the walls that exist in
the system today are stone or brick fortifications that were built when the Ming
was in power.
11) The Great Wall Is Made Out of Rice
While it is not a major building
material, rice was indeed used as a structural component in the construction of
the Great Wall. During the Ming era, a sticky type mortar made of rice flour and
slaked lime was used for building the stone and brick walls. The mortar is still
used today for brickwork and stone. Exceptionally solid – even today, the
rice-type mortar prevents weeds from sprouting through the nooks and crannies
that develop when other mortars are used.
In fact, in certain research studies, scientists, studying ancient Chinese
architecture, experimented with rice mortar – trying to recreate the use of the
bonding compound in current architectural and building projects in China. When
analyzing the sticky material, they found that the crystalline structure
differed significantly from other kinds of mortar. Because rice’s calcium
carbonate structure is smaller and more condensed, it forms a stronger and more
dependable bond for laying bricks.
Next to using rice, the other materials utilized in the construction of the
Great Wall are considered more mundane. Many of the early-built sections were
simply made from compacted dirt or stone. Because the wall spans over such a
great distance, builders frequently made use of natural materials that were
nearby or close at hand.
10) The Great Wall Was Not Always a Good Fortress for Defense
While the main purpose of the Great Wall of China was to prevent invasions
from nomadic people in the north, the Wall did not always prove to be reliable.
Because the nomads lived in the drought-like conditions of the Chinese steppes,
they frequently were tempted to raid the stockpiles of food of their
agricultural neighbors to the south.
Defensive Positions Along the Great Wall:
Although trading existed between the two regions, the relationship between
the two peoples, overall, was neither harmonious nor peaceful. The main weakness
associated with the Wall was its incongruity. Therefore, northern nomads always
found a way to get into the region. One of the most famous raiders was Genghis
Khan, whose Mongol warriors succeeded at conquering China in 1279 AD.
The defense provided by the wall was also ineffective when it was not
adequately manned. After all, a wall standing alone, without the support of a
battalion, cannot defend an area from attack.
9) The Great Wall of China Is One of the Largest Public Works Projects Ever
To Be Undertaken
Historically, the Great Wall of China has to be listed as one
of the largest public works projects on record. The massive amount of work and
time involved in building the thousands of miles of walls and fortifications
also required large labor force. Therefore, it is hard to determine just how
many people worked on the structure over the centuries – considering the length
of the wall and the time involved.
The first large-scale "Great Wall” project, during the Qin Dynasty, employed
roughly 300,000 soldiers and 500,000 laborers. Later, the Northern Qi Dynasty
used 1.8 million people on its wall-building projects, and the Sui Dynasty
employed a million people for further construction of the wall. Frontier guards,
farmers, convicts, down-on-their-luck intellectuals, and even disgraced noblemen
were employed, at one time or another, to work on the building project.
8) The Great Wall Unified Chinese Culture
The Chinese have shared a common culture longer than any other group of
people on earth, and the building of the Great Wall is one of the events that
played a major role in this respect.
That’s because the building of the Great Wall was one of the first projects
that spanned over the Chinese empire – unifying the area to the south
geographically and politically.
Because thousands of people, from different parts of China, were used to
build the fortification, the people became familiarized with the various customs
of the Asian continent.
7) The Great Wall Is Defined as a "Dragon” Wall
In Chinese philosophy, dragons are an important symbol of wisdom and
goodness. Dragons live under the earth, protecting their homeland. They shape
the landscape and bring it to life.
Because dragons are considered to be symbolic components of feng shui and
Chinese astronomy, they were considered to be protective icons during the
building of the Great Wall as well.
Components of Feng Shui:
According to one legend, the dragon walked the course of the building site
and left its tracks to show where the Wall should be built.. The Wall, itself,
has also been compared to the dragon – a protective edifice that was used to
safeguard the northern border of China.
6) The Great Wall is a Manmade Wonder, But It Is Not Considered One of The
“Great Wonders” of the Ancient World
Despite being the world's largest piece of ancient architecture, the Great
Wall is not counted as one of the "Great Wonders of the Ancient World." That’s
because the idea of the "Seven Wonders of the World" was started by the ancient
In fact, several Greek writers compiled their own lists of architectural
wonders, most of which tended to include at least some of the same structures.
Naturally, such lists focused on structures within the Greeks’ sphere of
knowledge. Architectural feats, such as the Great Wall of China, were simply
unknown to them.
However, that being said, many lists of the “Seven Wonders of the World" have
been compiled during different periods since that time, and therefore the
listings may focus on different structures. For example, the Great Wall is
included as one of the wonders of the medieval world on at least one of these
Portion of the Great Wall at Mutianyu:
Of greater significance, the Great Wall of China was designated as a UNESCO
World Heritage Site in 1987. UNESCO recognized the Wall for its historic,
strategic, cultural, and architectural importance - a testament to the Chinese
and their sophisticated expertise during ancient times.
The building of the Great Wall demonstrates a high level of forward thinking
by the rulers of the ancient Chinese states – one which involved an enormous
capacity for organization, given that a huge workforce was mobilized and
established for the overall project.
5) The Last Battle Fought in the Area of the Great Wall Occurred in the 20th
While the Great Wall was designed to defend the ancient Chinese from the
nomadic people of the Asian steppes as well as the nearby Mongolian raiders, the
last of the intruders came from another part of the world.
In 1938, the Japanese controlled the area north of the Great Wall, or the
region of Manchuria. When Japanese troops marched on Beijing, they discovered
that the Great Wall was hindering their attack.
The Chinese army, in turn, used the wall as a defense against the invasion,
giving the structure one more opportunity to serve its purpose – to defend the
Chinese from attacks from the north.
However, after a series of battles, the Japanese finally broke through the
fortification. Today, thousands of bullet holes batter the wall – a reminder of
that one last invasion from the north.
4) The Great Wall Caused the Boxer Rebellion (Except It Actually Didn't)
Although the Great Wall plays a part in the story behind the Boxer Rebellion,
the tale is a fabrication that is American in origin. In 1899, three Denver
newspapers reported that the Chinese were making plans to tear down the Great
Wall in order to replace it with a road.
Chinese General Nie Shicheng Killed in 1900 During the
According to newspaper accounts at the time, Chinese officials were accepting
bids from American firms to do the work on the roadway, claiming that a
Chicago-based engineer was used as a source for their story.
The news made a big splash, eventually appearing in papers all across the
nation. However, everything was completely made up. The original stories were
written as a joke by Denver reporters whose real reason for telling the tales
was to spice up an otherwise bland day in the field.
Boxer During the Revolt:
The hoax might have ended there. However, in 1939, a new article appeared
that claimed that Chinese locals were so angered by the false reports that they
took up arms against westerners in the country. As a result, the Boxer Rebellion
ensued – a violent period in Chinese history which resulted in the deaths of
thousands of Chinese and foreigners. While that last news story really did not
have anything to do with the Rebellion itself, it was believed it did after the
telling of the accounts.
3) The Great Wall Is a Figurative, But Not Literal Graveyard
Many people worked on the Great Wall under oppressive conditions. As a
result, the Great Wall has been dubbed as the “World’s Longest Cemetery,”
primarily because so many people lost their lives while working on the
While some stories have been circulated that people have been buried inside
the wall, those accounts are false or the source of an overactive imagination.
Most of the workers who died were buried alongside the structure. However, one
legend persists about a woman named Meng Jian Nu, who was a farmer’s wife during
the Qin Dynasty. Meng’s husband, who was conscripted to work on the wall, died
one day while working at the site.
Map of Qin Dynasty:
When Meng heard of her husband’s death, it was said that she wept for such a
long period that the wall eventually collapsed and revealed her husband’s bones.
Still, scientists, so far, have found no evidence to support any truth behind
this legend or any other stories about people being buried within the Wall.
2) The Great Wall is the Most Popular Tourist Attraction in China
One of the first foreign tourists to see the Great Wall was also one of the
Wall’s most famous and influential visitors. When President Nixon traveled to
China in 1972, his trip included a visit to the Great Wall near Beijing. Because
of the President’s trip, the outside world became more aware of the Wall’s
Since that time, the Great Wall has become China's most popular tourist
attraction, with 10 million people visiting the area where the Wall sits every
year. The section of the Wall most often visited is in Badaling, or the section
of the Wall closest to Beijing. Badaling also served as the endpoint of the 2008
Olympic cycling course.
Other sections of the Wall have been opened to the public as well. The area
near Mutianyu is accessible from Beijing, but receives fewer visitors, making it
a better choice for tourists who want to savor scenic views of the surrounding
Hikers like to walk the Great Wall between Jinshanling and Simatai, a
7.5-mile hike through relatively isolated terrain.
Tour options for visiting the Wall include multi-day journeys along stretches
of the structure, with opportunities to spend the night camping beside the Wall
Helicopter flights over parts of the Wall can be booked, or motorcycle
sidecar tours to some of the less-frequented sections of the Wall can be
1) The Great Wall Is Not Visible from The Moon
The myth that the Wall is visible from the moon appears to have started
before 1900, but was popularized in 1932 when the “fact” was published by
"Ripley's Believe It Or Not.’ Even though space travel would not yet occur for
many decades, people still believed the fallacy. Today, that "fact" is still
accepted as common knowledge - that the Wall is visible from the moon, or at
least visible by orbiting the planet.
However, people who have visited space (and the moon) say otherwise.
Astronauts who participated in the Apollo moon missions confirm that no manmade
structure is visible from the moon. Astronauts, who have orbited the Earth, also
state that the Great Wall is not visible from those heights.
Only 30 feet wide at its broadest sections and largely made out of natural
materials, the Great Wall blends seamlessly into the surrounding terrain and is
therefore impossible to see from the stratosphere.
The Great Wall of China is a monument to China's influence
imperially and culturally. The Wall is also a subject of myth and fantasy, with
its legends stretching and surpassing the length of the structure itself. Once a
part of a cohesive defensive strategy, today the Wall holds important links with
Not only is the Great Wall a national treasure, it is a global testament to
human skill, ingenuity, and resolve.