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The Great Wall of China: History and Facts

Angela loves history and feels it is essential to our future to know the past—or else we're destined to repeat it.

Panoramic view of the Great Wall of China

Panoramic view of the Great Wall of China

Great Wall of China Facts

The Great Wall of China, one of the seven wonders of the world, was initially built to protect the northern side of China. It was worked on sporadically for over two thousand years before the entire surface of the wall was complete. The construction began during the Warring States Period (770-256 BC) by the Han Dynasty. Since that period, the wall has been built, destroyed, and rebuilt several times; each time reflects the ups and downs of the Chinese dynasty. Most of what remains today is from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 AD) because much of the original construction has been destroyed.

Picture of the Great Wall

Picture of the Great Wall

Why Was It Built?

The main reason for building the Great Wall of China was as a defense system. It was vital due to China's constant turbulence throughout history. During the initial construction of the Great Wall, nomadic groups, as they traveled from place to place, felt entitled to particular areas that were beneficial to them. They would invade and fight for any land that was not immediately handed over. Usually, the property was most helpful if it contained easy access to vegetation. To get to that vegetation, they would kill whole communities. The Great Wall was then constructed to protect the Chinese people from these early violent nomadic people.

Beautiful view of the wall

Beautiful view of the wall

How Was It Constructed?

For the Great Wall to be useful as a defense, it needed more than just a thin cement slab blocking against violent intruders, which meant a lot of workers, a lot of tools, and a lot of labor. Often hauling the tools that would be typical to build such a massive structure was too high; therefore, they used local tools and rocks. They used the stones from the very mountains they stood to protect. During the Ming Dynasty, instead of building with stones, they used bricks that they would bake in a kiln on site of the construction. They would use rectangular slabs of rocks that were carried by either men or pack animals such as donkeys or goats.

They also needed watchtowers, where people could keep watch over the land for trespassers, protect the property, and be able to alert those of a possible attack. For the nation to be monitored, they built the watchtowers at 1,500 feet intervals throughout the Great Wall. The exact number of watchtowers is unknown, although we know it was well over ten thousand. During warring times, bowmen stood guard at the watchtowers ready for attack. These bowmen also had a system to alert other people when they saw men approaching. These men, along with many of the troops, lived in the watchtowers. They also stored their weapons there for easy access.

Aside from watchtowers, there were also many beacon towers. There are three different kinds: one away from the wall, a second attached to it, and the third within the Great Wall. In the beacon towers, they served a similar purpose, as did the watchtowers. Men kept watch and would alert others in case of a war. To inform the soldiers, they would send up a smoke signal during the day and bright fire lights at night. Throughout the wall, at regular intervals, there are square holes or breaches called crenels. Crenels were used to keep watch for invaders as well as used as a place to prepare to shoot.

Interior of a watch tower near the great wall

Interior of a watch tower near the great wall

Fun Facts

Today, the Great Wall no longer serves as a defense system, but rather as a fantastic structure that many travel from across the world to view. Some believe you can see the great wall from space. Although it is an enormous structure, this is untrue, because although it is long, it is not wide enough to see. We would be just as likely to see a highway system from space.

The original great wall was over 7,300 kilometers long. Only 6,300 kilometers remain, mostly built during the Ming Dynasty. The wall was made wide enough for five horses to canter side by side along the top of it. On average, it was seven to eight meters high and six to seven meters wide, which is a little less than a five-lane highway. The road portion where people and horses would travel was approximately four to five meters wide.

The highest point that the wall reaches is on the ridge of Yanshan Mountain. It rises one thousand meters above sea level and is one of the more famous sections of the Great Wall. The wall itself starts at the Yellow Sea and wraps around the Northern side of China. The video below has some great pictures of how far the wall reaches.

In Beijing

In Beijing alone, the Great Wall measures 629 km. Beijing has been the nation's capital for the past 800 years, since the twelfth century. It was a very significant area to protect, which may also be the reason why Beijing is home to the most well-preserved portions of the Great Wall. Due to its mountainous terrain, they built much of the wall on the mountain ridges. The section of the Wall that lies in Beijing is the most beautiful portion and also one of the most popular among tourists.

Although it is the hope of the nation that the need for such a great tool of defense will never be needed again, it stands today to remind them of the heart and determination of those who came before them. Today a wall like that would take years to construct, even with our new technology, machines, vehicles, etc. Imagine the pain and struggle it took thousands of men to build all 7,300 kilometers.

If these walls could talk, they would be able to tell a history of over 2,000 years. They saw the warring times, the peaceful times, death, pain, victory, and joy. Their history is longer than the wall itself, which is why so many people are fascinated by it. Not only do they have the stories of the war, but of the men who built it.


  • "Beijing Great Wall." China Odyssey Tours. Accessed February 28, 2018.
  • "Great Wall of China." Travel China Guide. Accessed February 28, 2010.

© 2010 Angela Michelle Schultz


Christine Reyes from Virginia on January 12, 2019:

I find the history behind this walls very interesting. It made me love studying history even more. I am a new hubber and i am finding your topics very much interesting.

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on May 15, 2012:

I hope someone takes you up on that!

Xin Ping from Beijing, China on May 15, 2012:

Hi, nice to see you here everybody.

I am Mr.Ping , the tour guide and driver in Beijing .

If you like to visit Beijing and the Great Wall , please contact me . I will help you and make your trip more easier in Beijing .

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on July 22, 2010:

That is a very interesting question, that I don't have the answer for. I have mixed feelings about the wall myself. Back then, pretty much any construction was dangerous. Many people died making the Macinac bridge here in the US as well. Since the wall was so huge it just exacerbated the problem.

ocoonocoon on July 21, 2010:

Hi nice hub. I have visited the wall myself. I do have mixed feelings about it since so many people died making it and it never did do the job of keeping armies out (like the Mongols).

By the way, is it true the Chinese have a thing for walls? My aunt notices that Chinese in the US often build little walls outside their yards. I did read that walls were used in China to mark property but also to keep bad spirits out.

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on June 01, 2010:

I am quite jealous aussieteacher. I would love to someday walk on part of it. My husband did, and he promises to someday take me and our daughter. Who knows what the future holds!

Di from Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. on June 01, 2010:

I've been on the wall and found it amazing, however, I enjoyed the Xi'an city wall. Not so crowded. The views of the Gra Wall of the hills are better than the city views of Xi'an, but still - two great accomplishments by the Chinese many years ago.

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on April 28, 2010:

Thank you very much Pamela. The pictures are really impressive. My husband had some, but when I found these on I thought I would use these instead.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on April 28, 2010:

Angela Michelle, This is a very well written informative hub. I love all the pictures also. Good hub.

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on April 28, 2010:

Thank you Mentalist acer. I hope to someday be able to travel there and see it myself. My husband has been and promises to take me someday. :)

Mentalist acer from A Voice in your Mind! on April 28, 2010:

A very thorough and thoroughly enjoyable hub angela_michelle:)