The Great Wall of China is one of the most recognizable structures in the world and contrary to what you may think it’s not visible from the Moon.
The wall is a series of stones and mud fortifications, built and rebuilt many times between 5th century B.C and 16th century A.D. Its purpose was to protect the northern borders of the Chinese Empire.
In total, the Great Wall stretch over 6,700 km / 4,160 miles. It starts in the Liaoning Province and goes through Hebei Province, Tianjin Municipality, Beijing Municipality, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, Shanxi Province, Shaanxi Province, and Ningxia Autonomous Region to Gansu Province
The Great Wall of China as we know it today has actually been built at different times by different emperors:
- The First Great Wall was built by Qin Shi Huangdi. He ordered the wall to be built in 214 BC. Its construction took 32 years.
- The Second Great Wall was built by the Han Dynasty between 205 and 127 BC
- The Third Great Wall was built by the Jin Dynasty in 1200 AD
- The Fourth Great Wall was built by the Ming Dynasty between 1367 and 1644
In 1984 President Deng Xiaoping started a restoration and protection project of the Great Wall of China, while in 1987 the closest section of the Wall to Beijing — Badaling — was declared a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site.
Locations that can be visited
The Great Wall of China can be visited at several locations along its length. Some of them are really touristy and in very good shape, while other locations are really hard to get to and are ruined.
Badaling and Juyongguan are the nearest sections to Beijing and always the most crowded ones. The Wall is made of stone and brick and is 7.8 meters / 25.6ft high and 5 meters / 16.4 ft wide.
Mutianyu is also rather close to Beijing and is not as crowded as Badaling. If you don’t like to hike up you can take the ski lift to get to the top. Going down is easy: on a a wheeled toboggan (or, obviously, the stairs).
Simatai is further away from Beijing but you will be escaping the crowds. It’s one of the most authentic parts of the wall. Just make sure to bring extra water, extra batteries for the camera and a spare card.
Shanhaiguan is where the first pass of the Great Wall was built. This part is absolutely stunning. Suffice is to say that “Shanhaiguan” literarily means “The Pass of Mountain and Sea”. The train ride from Beijing takes about 4 hours.
Bring your own water. In the summer you will need lots of water and while there are vendors pretty much everywhere at the well known sections, you wouldn’t want to pay the extra “location” price for it. Some of the areas, however, don’t have any clean water near-by so make sure to stock on it before leaving.
Hiking as a sport is pretty much something the Chinese don’t understand. So make sure not to cross state and private property.
The lack of proper maps makes it very had to hike on your own. And actually there are few guides that know the areas near the Wall well enough. If you decide to go on your own remember that the areas are mostly mud and stones, so wear proper hiking equipment. Outside the touristy zones you are pretty much on your own. China doesn’t have any rescue system in place so if something happens you cannot call for help.
Be a responsible hiker and don’t let any trace behind you. Damaging the Wall in any way means a one way ticket to the jail.