When you visit Beijing, you really have to visit the Great Wall of China, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Along with 50 million other people who visit annually, you will need to make this pilgrimage to one of the greatest man-made structures ever built. If you are lucky, you won’t feel like the other 50 million people are right there with you on the Great Wall. Here are some fun facts about the Great Wall of China as well as some tips if you are visiting the Great Wall of China with kids.
Facts about the Great Wall of China
The Great Wall of China has been subject to many stories including the cherished urban myth that you can see it from space. You can’t. The following information is accurate though.
Why was the Great Wall of China built?
The Great Wall of China was built to protect the Chinese empire from invading nomads. It started off as a series of earthen ramparts probably as early as 771 BC.
China’s first emperor, Qin, Shi Huang (of Terracotta Army fame) took the idea of a defensive wall and ran with it. He had finally united the country and was tired of invasions. Over the course of 20+ centuries, these early efforts were then turned to stone and then joined together to form the Great Wall.
The wall was built with battlements and turrets and housing for soldiers. These soldiers had enough supplies to defend the Wall in case of a siege.
All these defence mechanisms don’t work though if you have a traitor in your midst. In 1644, one of the defending generals opened a gate and let the Manchus inside. They formed the Qing Dynasty which lasted until the early 20th century.
How long is the Great Wall of China?
Most people agree that the Great Wall of China is approximately 13,000 miles long. The wall runs from the Bohai Gulf north of Beijing abutting the Yellow Sea until the Jinguyguan Pass in the West. It goes through 15 regions of China.
Most of the Great Wall that is extant today dates from the 15th century. This remaining portion is about 5500 miles.
Parts of the Great Wall was subject to erosion and some of it was destroyed by people who used the wall for building materials for themselves. During the Cultural Revolution, things that were old were not respected. For example, the city wall around Beijing was destroyed to make room for traffic. A similar lack of interest in preserving the Great Wall meant large parts of it were destroyed.
The Chinese government only focused on the conservation of the Great Wall of China in 2006.
Miscellaneous Fun Facts
- In 2000 for the Chinese New Year celebrations, Jackie Chan led 10,000 people on a Dragon Dance on the wall.
- The first European to mention the Great Wall was the Portuguese explore, Joao de Barros in the 16th century.
- The Great Wall is held together with a strong rice flour mixture. Yes, rice.
- The Great Wall of China is only called that by Westerners. The Chinese have several names for it, such as Long Wall.
- The Great Wall was built with forced labour. Possibly, a million people at a time were used in the construction.
- Many of the labourers died but no human remains have ever been found in the Great Wall.
Great Wall of China Images
Visiting The Great Wall of China
There are three main spots near Beijing to visit the Great Wall of China – Mutianyu, Badaling and Jinshanling.
- The closest section of the Great Wall to Beijing is Badaling. Easily accessible by public transportation, it is also the most popular and crowded. At Badaling,you can take a cable car to the top. This section of the Great Wall was rebuilt in its entirety in 1958 for tourists.
- The Mutianyu section of the Greta Wall was opened in 1988. Approximately 2.5 hours by car from Beijing, it is less crowded than Badaling. You can walk, take a cable car or a gondola to the top. From one of the sections you can take a toboggan ride down to the bottom.
- The Jinshanling section is another 1 hour past Mutianyu. It also has cable car facilities. Our guide told us that there wasn’t much between the Mutianyu and the Jinshanling sections in terms of crowds. Apparently the Jinshangling section is better for photographs but it wasn’t worth it for us to make the kids sit in the car for an extra hour each way.
The Great Wall has had many famous visitors from ex-Presidents (Clinton, Obama) to the Queen of England. When Justin Bieber visited in 2013, he made his body guards carry him up the steep bits.
Walking the Great Wall of China
I can tell you that walking the Great Wall of China is tough going. Unlike Justin Bieber I did not have anyone to carry me. The steps are high in parts and you will feel it in your thighs.
The Great Wall is a series of up and down fortifications. I didn’t realise there really is no flat bit!
The Great Wall of China For Kids
My kids found the Great Wall fascinating. They were clambering over rocks like goats. We were told to take the children to the Mutianyu portion of the Great Wall because they would enjoy the toboggan ride down. There are single person toboggans or double rider ones. With young kids, we took the double rider toboggans.
When To Visit
Spring and autumn is a good time to visit the Great Wall. In winter, temperatures drop and there can be snow in places. We went in March and there was still evidence of snow.
The best time to visit is either or late in order to avoid the crowds. Now that the Chinese have rediscovered their love for the Great Wall, it is a very popular for domestic tourism. As such, try and avoid Chinese holidays such as Labour Day in May, Chinese New Year and National Day in October.
Where To Stay
We stayed in Beijing at the Hotel Eclat Beiing, a luxury boutique hotel full of artwork and set in its own biosphere in Beijing. Pretty much an only in Beijing thing which we actually loved.
Our friends who are expats in China actually went camping at the Great Wall of China at Jinshanling.
Tours of the Great Wall of China
Context Tours has a tour of the Jinshanling section of the Great Wall of China which takes a full day.
You can also pick from a selection of guided private and group tours of any of Badaling, Mutianyu and Jinshanling either to the Great Wall by itself or together with other sites. There really is a lot of choice!
Matt Damon’s 2017 movie The Great Wall was a flop even though it was directed by the same Chinese celebrity who created the Beijing Olympics opening program. Even the Chinese people we talked to thought it was terrible.
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