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Great Wall of China

221 206 Qin / Ch'in
202 9 Western Han
25 220 Eastern Han
1368 1644 Ming
Traditionally known to the Chinese as the "Long Wall of Ten Thousand Li", the stretch of formidable defensive structures built to ward off invasion of the Celestial Empire by barbarians is most often called the "Great Wall" or the "Wall of China" by Europeans. In c. 220 BC, under Qin Shi Huang, sections of earlier fortifications were joined together to form a united defence system against invasions from the north. Construction continued up to the Ming dynasty (13681644), when the Great Wall became the world's largest military structure. Its historic and strategic importance is matched only by its architectural significance.

This complex and diachronic cultural property is an outstanding and unique example of a military architectural ensemble which served a single strategic purpose for 2000 years, but whose construction history illustrates successive advances in defense techniques and adaptation to changing political contexts.

The Great Wall has an incomparable symbolic significance in the history of China. Its purpose was to protect China from outside aggression, but also to preserve its culture from the customs of foreign barbarians. Because its construction implied suffering, it is one of the essential references in Chinese literature, being found in works like the "Soldier's Ballad" of Tch'en Lin (c. 200 A.D.) or the poems of Tu Fu (712- 770) and the popular novels of the Ming period.

It is obviously not possible to guarantee the integral protection of the 50,000 kms of ancient walls preserved in China (this figure includes the fortifications of the inner kingdoms), nor even the some 6,000 kms of great walls erected in the north, approximately half of which subsist materially.

The Great Wall of China, frequently billed as the only man-made object visible from space, generally isn't, at least to the unaided eye in low Earth orbit. It certainly isn't visible from the Moon. The theory that the wall could be seen from the Moon dates back to at least 1938. It was repeated and grew until astronauts landed on the lunar surface. "The only thing you can see from the Moon is a beautiful sphere, mostly white, some blue and patches of yellow, and every once in a while some green vegetation," said Alan Bean, Apollo 12 astronaut. "No man-made object is visible at this scale." The visible wall theory was shaken after China's own astronaut, Yang Liwei, said he couldn't see the historic structure. Generally the Great Wall is hard to see and hard to photograph, because the material from which it is made is about the same color and texture as the area surrounding it. While the Great Wall of China is very difficult to see or photograph from low Earth orbit, sections of the wall can be seen readily in radar imagery. The wall is easily detected from space by radar because its steep, smooth sides provide a prominent surface for reflection of the radar beam.

"The Earth looked very beautiful from space, but I did not see our Great Wall," lamented China's first astronaut, Yang Liwei, after 21 hours in orbit in October 2003. The comment triggered a round of news stories that implied the structure could not be seen by any astronaut, disappointing many Chinese who thought it was the only manmade structure visible from space. For the record: No manmade structures on Earth can be seen with the unaided astronaut's eye from the Moon. But many things -- highways, dams and even large vehicles -- are easily spotted from Earth-orbit with no optical aids. A low angle of sunlight casting long shadows can help. "You can see the Great Wall," confirms astronaut Ed Lu, who was the science officer of Expedition Seven on the International Space Station. But it's less visible than a lot of other objects. And you have to know where to look.

In June 2012 the State Administration of Cultural Heritage published its latest survey result, which said the Great Wall measures 21,196.18 kilometers, almost 2.4 times the widely believed estimation of 8,851.8 km. "The previous estimation particularly refers to Great Walls built in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), but this new measure includes Great Walls built in all dynasties," said Yan Jianmin, office director of the China Great Wall Society, an NGO founded by specialists and scholars to protect the Great Wall of China. "In the past we did not count the defense cliff into the whole length of the Great Wall, but they surely are part of the defensive structure. Now we count it, so this would make the total length longer too," Li said.

The most popular section for tourists is at Badaling, 80 kilometers north os Beijing. However, the Mutianyu section is equally impressive. Both can be scaled on foot or by cable car. Visitiors can reach the Badalign section by a modern prupose built road. Those on a day's excursion vsvally combine the wall with a visit to the Ming Tombs. There are altogether 13 tombs scattered around a valley, complete eith a Spirit Way of stone animals, warriors and mandarins. Only a few of the tombs have been restored, most notably those of the Yongle and Wanli emperors.

Great Wall of China Great Wall of China Great Wall of China

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Page last modified: 02-07-2012 18:29:12 ZULU