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When Was the Great Wall of China Built? Over 2,300 Years in 9+ Dynasties

When Was the Great Wall of China Built? Over 2,300 Years in 9+ Dynasties

Written by Sunny XieUpdated Jun. 22, 2022

Like Rome, the Great Wall of China wasn’t built in a day. Its construction lasted over 2,300 years (680 BC – 1681 AD). Different sections of the Great wall were being built, destroyed, and renovated by 9+ dynasties. As one of the New 7 Wonders of the World, it is by far the largest wonder and the one that took the longest to build.

Continue reading, and you will learn:

When Was the Great Wall of China First Built?

Warring States Great Walls Map

According to historical records, the first Great Wall, named the Chu Great Wall or Chu Square Wall, was built and finished in the years between 680 BC and 656 BC, distributed in today’s Hubei and Henan provinces in eastern central China near the Yangtze River.

At that time, the eastern and central regions of what is now China consisted of seven main states, Qi, Wei, Zhao, Yan, Qin, Han, and Chu. To prevent invasion from his rich and aggressive neighboring state of Qi, the King of the Chu State ordered a wall built to link the existing watch towers (transmitting signals with beacon fires) for defense. So the original purpose of building the Great Wall was for self-defense.

Why was the Chu State built the first Great Wall? Click to read more.
Some also say the Great Wall was built 120 years before the Chu State. Click to see why.

Construction Timeline of the Great Wall

Over 2,300 years, many imperial dynasties and kingdoms built, rebuilt, and extended the Great Wall many times, but most of those walls subsequently eroded.

When Was the Great Wall of China Built? Construction Timeline of the Great Wall

How Long Did It Take to Build the Great Wall of China?

The Great Wall of China’s history began in the Spring and Autumn Period (771–476 BC). The first-ever section of the ‘Great Wall’ was first built in the Chu State over a period of 24 years (680–656 BC). Afterward, new ‘Great Wall’ sections were built or rebuilt on their old sites to resist the invasion from neighboring states and later the northern nomads and nations, lasting over 2,300 years.

Among these 9+ dynasties of the Great Wall building, the Qin and Ming Great Walls played much more significant roles in history.

The Building of the Qin Great Wall — 15 Years

The Qin Dynasty connected together and expanded walls already in place on newly-united China’s northern frontier that were built by prior kingdoms. This began around 221 BC and continued in earnest for the Qin Dynasty’s brief reign of 15 years.

The Records of the Grand Historian suggested 300,000–500,000 soldiers were assigned to both build and guard the Qin Great Wall with the help of 400,000–500,000 conscripted laborers. Other records suggest that up to 1.5 million men were used during the peak of the Qin construction. 

The Great Wall of the Qin Dynasty
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The Building of the Ming Great Wall — 276 Years

The latest imperial construction was performed by the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644), and the total length of the Great Wall reached over 8851.8 km (5,500 miles). This is the wall often referred to today when we talk about the Great Wall.

The Ming Dynasty spent all 276 years of their time in power building the Great Wall. Decades of work went into constructing wide and paved turreted walls with towers. These walls (like Badaling and Mutianyu) served as troop highways in the rough terrain.

The Great Wall of the Ming Dynasty
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How Old is the Great Wall of China?

Jinshanling Great WallJinshanling Great Wall, with a history of over 650 years.

With the first ‘Great Wall’ built in the 7th century BC, the Great Wall of China is now over 2,600 years old. Most of the Great Wall (Badaling, Mutianyu, Jinshanling, etc.) standing today, was actually built in the Ming Dynasty (in the 14th to 17th centuries), and so most of it is around 400 years old.

Here’s a summary of the ages for the main Great Wall sections in China:

Great Wall Name Time of Building Age
Jinshanling Great Wall 1368 Around 650 years old
Jiankou Great Wall 1368
Jiayuguan Pass 1372
Simatai Great Wall 1373
Shanhaiguan Pass 1381
Mutianyu Great Wall 1404 Around 610 years old
Huanghuacheng Lakeside Great Wall
Badaling Great Wall 1505 Around 510 years old

Further Reading

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