Home China Guide The Great Wall of China — All Things You Want to Know

The Great Wall of China — All Things You Want to Know

the great wall of chinaThe Great Wall of China

The Great Wall of China is one of the greatest sights in the world — the longest wall in the world, an awe-inspiring feat of ancient defensive architecture. Its winding path over rugged country and steep mountains takes in some great scenery.

The Great Wall facts

  • Chinese name: 长城 (Chángchéng /channg-chnng/ 'Long Wall')
  • Location: Northern China
  • Length: 21,196.18 km (13,170.7 mi), all known sections were measured
  • History: more than 2,300 years

Read another 20 amazing facts about the Great Wall.

History — Who Built the Great Wall, When, Why, and How

The "Long Wall" has a long history — more than 2,300 years. It was built in different areas by different states/dynasties to protect different territorial borders.

Who Built the Great Wall, and When

It's often said that the First Emperor of Qin built the Great Wall. Actually he was not the first to build it. See below:

Dynasty Great Wall History — Key Events
Zhou Dynasty: The (Pre-) Warring States Period (770–221 BC) State overlords built state border walls.
The Qin Dynasty (221–207 BC) The First Emperor of Qin linked the Great Wall sections on China's northern border.
The Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD) Han Wudi extended the Great Wall west to Yumen Pass and beyond.
The Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) Hero General Qi Jiguang rebuilt the Great Wall around Beijing.

Why the Great Wall Was Built

why built the great wallThe Great Wall was built to prevent invasion and protect silk road trade.

In the Qin Dynasty, the First Emperor of Qin inked the northern walls to prevent invasion from northern nations. In the Han Dynasty, the emperors extended the Great Wall far into today's western China to protect Silk Road trade.

Read more on the Who, When, and Why of Great Wall Construction and the 2,300 -year history of the Great Wall.

How the Great Wall was Built

The majestic Great Wall was built with wisdom, dedication, blood, sweat, and tears. Families were separated, and many workers died and were interred as part of the Great Wall itself.

  • Workers: soldiers, peasants, rebels
  • Materials: stone, soil, sand, brick
  • Material delivery: by hand, rope, cart, goat (?)

Read more on How the Great Wall Was Constructed to see who the workers were, their construction techniques, and how they moved the huge amount of materials.

The Great Wall's Structure — Walls, Watchtowers, Fortresses…

the great wallA watchtower at the Great Wall

The Great Wall was not just a wall. It was an integrated military defensive system with watchtowers for surveillance, fortresses for command posts and logistics, beacon towers for communications, etc.

In the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644), the Great Wall was reconstructed to be stronger and more sophisticated, due to better construction techniques being developed.

  • The wall body: The Ming Great Wall usually had battlements 1.8 meters (6 feet) high with loopholes and crenels, and parapet walls 1.2 meters (4 feet) high.
  • Flanking towers: Every 500 meters or less (1,640 feet) on the Great Wall there was a flanking tower allowing defenders to shoot arrows at attackers at the face of the wall.
  • Fortresses were built at important/vulnerable access points (passes), such as Shanhai Pass Fortress, Juyong Pass Fortress, and Jiayu Pass Fortress. There were many archery windows and gates on the forts. The fortress gatehouses were the strongest and most impregnable structures on the Great Wall. 

For more structural details read The Great Wall of the Ming Dynasty.

Present Condition — 30%+ of the Great Wall Is Gone

the great wall at jiankou30%+ of the Great Wall is gone.

Due to natural erosion and human damage, about 2,000 kilometers, or 30% of the Ming Great Wall has disappeared. (Far more of previous dynasties' Great Wall sections is gone.)

Restoration and Protection to the Great Wall

To prevent further loss of the Great Wall, the Chinese Government has taken measures to protect it:

  • Laws to protect the Great Wall
  • Funds for protection, restoration, and maintenance

As individuals, we can do the follows to protect the Great Wall:

  • Plant trees to keep the Great Wall slopes protected from erosion
  • Don't litter and graffiti / remove trash and graffiti
  • Don't damage the Great Wall / take bricks home (it's illegal)

Great Wall Culture — Legends, Stories, Poetry…

great wall legend of mengjiangnvMeng Jiang Nü weeping over the Great Wall.

The Great Wall is a China icon. It shows us not only China's culture of national pride, grand projects, and determined resistance, but also China's extravagant architecture and creativity.

During the construction of the Great Wall, there were many interesting legends and myths, such as Meng Jiang Nü weeping over the Great Wall, a sad but romantic love story set in the Qin Dynasty. Read more on Great Wall Culture — Legends, Stories, Poetry…

Great Wall Travel

The Great Wall of China is the must-visit China attraction. Perhaps the most powerful advertising words in history come from the poetic pen of Chairman Mao: "Until you reach the Great Wall, you're no hero." Figuratively this has come to mean 'to get over difficulties before reaching a goal'. See more Great Wall Sayings.

70,000 Visitors Per Day! — and that's just one section!

After the Great Wall opened to the public as a tourist attraction, hundreds of millions of visitors have been to its various sections. Badaling section is the most visited section (63,000,000 visitors in 2001). In peak seasons, the visitor flow can be up to 70,000 per day!

Why You Should Visit The Great Wall

the great wall sceneryThe Great Wall is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.

"Greatest Human Feat in History": The Great Wall is the building project with the longest duration and greatest cost in human lives, blood, sweat and tears. It deserves its place among "the New Seven Wonders of the World" and the UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Over 300 World VIPs Have Visited the Great Wall!

Over the years, many national leaders and celebrities have been to the Great Wall...

  • Barack Obama, President of the U.S., visited the Great Wall in November 18, 2009.
  • David Cameron, Britain's Prime Minister, visited Juyong Pass on November 10, 2010.
  • See who else has been to the Great Wall.

Most Popular Sections Around Beijing

the great wallThe Great Wall at Mutianyu

We would rank Beijing's nearby Great Wall sections as follows, according to our customers' feedback and our own personal experience:

  • Mutianyu — the most magnificent fully-restored Great Wall section
  • Jinshanling — the most popular Great Wall hiking route, with most beautiful original architecture
  • Jiankou — the section that appears on most postcards, steep and perilous

However, we recognize your individual choice will be based on your own personal interests and requirements. See our Great Wall sections comparison for more information to base your choice on.

Recommended Great Wall Tours

great wall travel

If you are planning a Great Wall tour, see our guide to how to plan a Great Wall tour. Or see our recommended tours for inspiration:

Not quite what you were looking for? No problem. You can have us tailor-make your own Great Wall tour by telling us your interests and requirements.