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Great Wall of China: Length, History, Map, Why and When Built It

Great Wall of China: Length, History, Map, Why and When Built It

Written by Kelly PangUpdated Jan. 26, 2022

Get a thorough intro to the Great Wall of China: interesting facts, history, length, who built it, and why, and how, locations, maps, height, Beijing tours...

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 of China You Want to Know

How Long Is the Great Wall of China

The length of the Great Wall of China is 21,196.18 km (13,170.7 mi). The data came from the State Administration of Cultural Heritage. In 2009, the State Administration of Cultural Heritage first published data on the Ming Dynasty Great Wall, which measured 8,851 kilometers (5499 miles). 

How Long is The Great Wall

See more on How Long Is the Great Wall of China?

The History of the Great Wall of China

The Great Wall of China has a history of more than 2,000 years. The Great Wall of China’s history began in the Spring and Autumn Period (770–476 BC) and was last rebuilt as a defense in the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644).

Early Walls

During the Spring and Autumn Period (770–476 BC) and the Warring States Period (475–221 BC) when the eastern and central region of what is now China consisted of many small states or princedoms, the princes ordered independent walls be built along state borders to protect their states. The earliest was probably built between the states of Lu and Qi around 650 BC, which later became part of the Chu State Wall.

The Great Wall of the Warring States Period Map

The Great Wall of the Warring States Period Map

The Qin Dynasty (221–206 BC)

Qin Shihuang (king of the State of Qin from 247–221 BC) conquered and unified the other states. Emperor Qin Shihuang ordered that the northern sections of wall on state borders, especially the walls in the northern part of China built by the states of Qin, Zhao and Yan, be joined together to form a unified line of defense against Mongol harassment from the north, the first true Great Wall. Other state border walls became obsolete in a unified China and were subsequently eroded or dismantled.

Great Wall of Qin Dynasty Map

The Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD)

The northern fortifications were strengthened and lengthened, with sections of wall running parallel for hundreds of kilometers and interlinking along the Inner Mongolian border. 

The Han Dynasty Great Wall from the North Korea coast near Pyongyang in the east to Jade Gate Pass (Yumenguan) in the west was the longest the Great Wall has ever been at more than 8,000 km (5,000 miles). The total length included many branching walls, natural barriers, and trenches.

The Great Wall of Han Dynasty Map

The Great Wall of Han Dynasty Map

The Yuan Dynasty (1271–1368)

The Yuan Dynasty was the first dynasty in which the whole of China was controlled by a non-Han people, the Mongols. The Great Wall had done a good job of preserving Han China for 1,500 years. Building of the Great Wall, not surprisingly, ceased during the Yuan Dynasty, as China and Mongolia to the north were one. 

The Ming Dynasty (1368–1644)

China flourished during the Ming Dynasty and its military might swell. The Great Wall was systematically rebuilt in a 100-year project to prevent further northern invasion.

Most of the remaining Great Wall was built in the Ming Dynasty, and is known as the Ming Great Wall. The Great Wall sections close to Beijing like the Badaling section and Mutianyu section were built during the Ming Dynasty.

The Great Wall of Ming Dynasty Map

Post-Ming History (1644–present)

A breach in the Great Wall at Shanhai Pass in 1644 by Manchu forces signaled the end of Han control in China for the last and final Chinese dynasty, the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911). It also signaled the end of construction and maintenance of the Great Wall, until the Badaling section was restored by the government of the Peoples' Republic of China, and opened to the public in 1957 as a tourist attraction.

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The Great Wall of China Map

The Great Wall mainly covers 15 provincial-level areas: Beijing, Tianjin, Liaoning, Jilin, Heilongjiang, Hebei, Henan, Shandong, Shanxi, Shaanxi, Hubei, Inner Mongolia, Ningxia, Gansu, and Qinghai.

Great Wall of China Map

The Great Wall of China Facts

  • Chinese name: 长城 (Chángchéng /channg-chnng/ 'Long Wall')
  • Nearly 1/3 of the Great Wall has disappeared without trace.
  • Glutinous rice flour was used to bind the Great Wall bricks.
  • The Great Wall is more than 2,300 years old.
  • The Great Wall stretches from west to east in northern China. 

Read more about the Great Wall Facts.

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Who Built the Great Wall and When

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

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:

Who Built The Great Wall of China Infographic

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

Image Telling Why Built the Great Wall of China

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. See Why the Great Wall Was Built

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How the Great Wall Was Built

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 Built — Materials and Methods: See who the workers were, their construction techniques, and how they moved the huge amount of materials.

How Tall Is the Great Wall of China?

The height of the Great Wall is 5–8 meters (16–26 feet), where intact/restored. It was designed to be at least three times the height of a man. Some of the Wall was built along ridges, which make it look taller.

The height of the Great Wall, Mutianyu Great Wall's structureMutianyu Great Wall's Structure

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

the Great Wall of China, Great Wall watchtowerA watchtower at the Great Wall

The Great Wall of China 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.

Read more about How Was the Great Wall of China Defended.

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

the great wall of China 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)

Read more about the Great Wall Protection.

Great Wall Culture — Legends, Stories, Poetry

the Great Wall of China, the Great Wall legend of MengjiangnvMeng Jiang Nv 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 Nv weeping over the Great Wall, a sad but romantic love story set in the Qin Dynasty.

Read more on the 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'.

Why You Should Visit The Great Wall

the Great Wall of China, great wall of China sceneryThe Great Wall in autumn

"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.
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Most Popular Sections Around Beijing

the Great Wall of China, the Mutianyu Great Wall sectionThe 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.

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