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Walking the Great Wall
The story of the wall that is the longest man-made structure ever built started almost 2000 years ago. The giant wall that is known as the Great Wall of China was originally built to protect China from invasion or attack by tribal enemies such as the Mongols, Huns and Turks, who resided (and raided) around the empire.

Where is it located?

Well, duh! It’s the Great wall of China, so it isn’t going to be in South America is it? The giant wall starts from the Shanghai Pass (it is the national culture site at the eastern end of the wall) in the East to Lop Nor (a group of seasonal salt lakes and marshes between two deserts) in the west and in between it passes through a variety of mountains, plateaus and deserts.

How long is it?

Over the centuries the wall eroded, was built, rebuilt and extended many times. So, if all the fortified walls built in the different dynasties around northern China are included, the total length of it would exceed 50,000 kilometres. However, when the last construction of the wall took place in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), the length was then approximately 6,000 kilometres, and this is the wall often referred to when we talk about the Great Wall. Hence, the Great Wall is approximately 6,000-kilometres-long, 25-feet-tall and 15 to 30-feet-wide.

How was it built?

Initially, the rulers of different states within the region developed individual walls but it was Qin Shi Huangdi, the first emperor of China, who successfully united all parts of China by connecting all the walls into one great wall.

The wall was built using different materials over the centuries. The earliest wall was largely made of compacted earth, surrounded by local stone. During the Ming Dynasty however, bricks were heavily used in many areas of the wall, as were materials such as tiles, lime and stone.

Over the centuries that followed, each dynasty did more work to maintain and develop the wall. Most of the current Great Wall was built during the Ming dynasty. The Great Wall included a series of watch towers and forts which could house soldiers, grain and weapons. Beacons could enable the passing of messages quickly along the wall. Special weapons were developed to enable the wall to be defended against attack, replicas of which are on display on the modern day wall.

Wall of death!

The wall, which is one of the Seven Wonders of the World and was granted the World Heritage status by UNESCO in 1987, was originally constructed by labourers comprising of soldiers, common people and criminals. Labourers were not paid for their work. It was slave labour. It is believed that approximately 300, 000 soldiers and 500, 000 commoners worked on the wall during the Qin Dynasty. It was one of the worst jobs in the world: rocks fell on people, walls caved in and workers died of exhaustion and disease. Labourers were fed only enough food to keep them alive. It is estimated that up to one million people died while constructing the Great Wall! For centuries, the Wall was known as “the longest cemetery in the world.” Archaeologists have even discovered numerous human remains buried under sections of the wall.

Is the Great Wall visible from space or moon?

According to NASA the Great Wall of China, isn’t visible from space, at least to the unaided eye in low Earth orbit, and it certainly isn’t visible from the Moon either. Kamlesh P. Lulla, NASA’s chief scientist for Earth observation at Johnson Space Centre in Houston, says “Generally the Great Wall is hard to see and photograph, because the material from which it is made is about the same colour and texture as the area surrounding it.”

Stories & legends

One of the most interesting and popular story linked to this great wall is of Meng Jiagnu. Meng and her husband lived in a nearby village and on their wedding day, the soldiers forcibly took away her husband for the construction of the great wall. When a year passed without any news from her husband, Meng decided to go look for him. Upon reaching the Great Wall, Meng was told by the conscripted labourers that her husband had been worked to death, and that the dead workers were buried under the Great Wall. Upon hearing this news, Meng began to cry loudly and hit the wall. A huge chunk of the Great Wall collapsed, revealing countless mounds of human bones.

The angry Emperor of the Qin Dynasty came to survey the damage done to his project. But when he saw Meng Jiang, he was enchanted by her beauty and wanted to marry her. Meng put forward three conditions for the marriage — firstly, she wanted her former husband to be given a grand burial; second, the emperor and his court must go into mourning for him; and lastly she wanted to visit the ocean. Though, the emperor wasn’t very happy with the second condition, he agreed so that he could gain this rare beauty. After Meng got her third wish fulfilled, she scolded the Emperor bitterly and cast herself into the ocean.

Another old legend relates that when the Jiayuguan Pass of the Great Wall of China in Gansu was being planned, the officer in charge asked the designer to estimate the exact number of bricks required and the designer gave him a number. The general doubted the designer’s judgment, asking him if that would be enough, so the designer added one brick. When Jiayuguan was finished, there was only one brick left free, which was placed loose on one of the gates where it remains today.

Discover the charm of the great wall by visiting this place during your upcoming vacations as Mao Zedong, the leader of the Chinese Revolution rightly said, “You are not a real man if you haven’t climbed the Great Wall.”

Source: The Express Tribune [April 14, 2011]

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