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The Construction History of the Great Wall, Great Wall of China History


 

The Great Wall of China  is a great miracle in world's ancient architecture. In the spring-autumn period, Chu State built up the unclosed city wall for several hundred kilometers, and during the period of warring states, Yan, Zhao, Wei, Han and Qin all built up their own great walls respectively. After the great unification of the whole China conducted by Emperor Qin Shihuang in Qin Dynasty, he united all the walls in different states. After the establishment of Ming Dynasty, the general Xu Da restored and enlarged the Great Wall for more than 18 times. The restored Great Wall began from Jiayuguan in the west of China, Gansu Province, to Yalu River in the east of China. It is the Great Wall we see today.


According to history record, there are three dynasties built sections of Great Wall over 5000km: the Great Wall of Qin Dynasty which starts from Lintao in the west and ends at Liaodong in the east. The Great Wall of Han Dynasty spans from Hexi Passway(河西走廊) to Liaodong, covering an distance of over 10000km, and finally the Great Wall of Ming dynasty. Generally speaking, Great Wall of earlier stages is dilapidated and deserted; it is the Great Wall of Ming Dynasty that is best preserved.

 

 The Sections of the Great Wall constructed in Various Dynaties( Click for Bigger Picture)

The Great Wall emerged in the Spring and Autumn Period initially against the background when the independent kingdoms and states suffered endless battles and invasions. Even after Emperor Qinshihuang united all the states, the consistent raids from northern tribes make this endeavor to last over 2000 years. However, the Great Wall built in earlier years are in ruins, and when speak of the Great Wall, it mainly refers to the one constructed during Ming dynasty (1364-1644).

 

The Primitive Great Wall in Spring and Autumn Period(770BC-221BC)


The construction endeavor the Great Wall dates back as early as the Spring and Autumn Period between the 8th and 5th centuries BC. To order to protect themselves from other states’ invasion, the states of Qin, Wei, Zhao, Qi, Yan and Zhongshan competed with each other in building their own great walls, big or small. These primitive stage walls built by earth and gravel between board frames proved to be effective to shield from swords and spears from rivals. Among them, Qi Great Wall is one of the most notable.

The Great Wall of Qi State: the oldest great wall


Starts from Changqing Area of Jinan City and ends at Qingdao City, The Great Wall of Qi State runs through Shandong Province. It was built in Spring and Autumn Period ,boasting relatively larger quantities of relics among all the ancient Great Wall. The construction project of it lasted over 2000years, covering an distance as long as 50,000,000m. Enjoying a history of over 2500 years, it is the oldest Great Wall in China known to us.

The Great Wall of Yan (864BC-202BC)


Yan was a state in Spring and Autumn Period, which was conquered by Qin in 221BC. The Great Wall of Yan was first built in 283BC from Huailai, Hebei Province to Liaoyang, Liaoning Province. When the Emperor Qin Shihuang united all the kingdoms and built a central feudal mechanic government, he pushed the borderline of the Great Wall northward, and some part of Yan Great Wall was deserted, those parts remain intact today measures 1.5 m in height and 2 m in width.


The Great Wall of Qin Dynasty(221BC-226BC)

 

212BC was a magical year, China was untied as one nation for the first time in history, thanks to the ambitious and tyrannical Emperor Qin Shihuang. In order to preserve peace against the powerful Xiongnu tribe in the north, Qin Shihuang Emperor Qinshihuang mustered an overwhelming motley of people, that is 20% of the population, to repair, build and expand the great wall from Liaodong(辽东,Shandong Province) to Lintao(临洮,Gansu Province) in 214BC, this formidable project was carried out under extremely harsh environment and conditions.

 

  

 Emperor Qin Shihuang

 Relics of The Great Wall of Qin Dynasty

  

 Relics of The Great Wall of Qin Dynasty

 Relics of The Great Wall of Qin Dynasty

It serves as a military defense and an important transportation route meanwhile. Due to its magnificence, it ranks as one of the Top Eight Wonders in the world. Undoubtedly, this awesome endeavor was accomplished at the cost of huge sacrifices, hundreds of thousands workers died building the Qinwall. Most of the walls of this period are dilapidated after weathering over the past millenniums, and very few sections remain today. Among them, there are several must-sees: The best preserved part of this period is in Jiuzi Village, Guyang County(固阳县), Baotou city, Inner Mongolia. It is 12km in length, with 5 m high exterior wall and 3m high interior wall, all built with local materials. A stone Fire Signal Station(烽火台) will be built each 1000m in high place to gain the broadest vision. Inside of this section, over 107 rock paintings are discovered. Boasting vivid shape and flowing lines, these paintings done by the workers omit primitive flavor.

 

However, this project is doomed to continue, the Han (220BC-220AD), Northern dynasties (557AD-581AD) and Sui (581AD-618AD) all witnessed the repair, rebuilt, or expansion of the sections of the Great Wall.


Dynasties When the Great Wall Ceased to Expand


Tang (618-907) and Song Dynasties(960-1279) did not see the building of the Great Wall, thanks to the powerful nation, and northern tribes were under their control. The Liao, Jin and Yuan Dynasties (1206-1368) ruled Northern China from 10-13th centuries owned their power bases in the north, thus they would have no need to build a wall along this line.


The Great Wall of Ming Dynasty(1368AD-1644AD)

 

 

 The Original Version of the Great Wall of Ming Dynasty, now the east point is Hushan Great Wall, not Shanhai Pass.

 

The Great Wall of Ming Dynasty is the most outstanding project with the longest time, grandest scale and most complete and solid defense systems as well as structures. It highlights the extraordinary architecture skills at that time and contributes a lot to guide the border against invasion, to facilitate the trade along the Silk Road and to develop the western area of China.


According to the statistics done by the end of April, 2009, the Great Wall of Ming Dynasty starts from Hushan in Liaoning Province in the east and reaches Jiayuguan Pass of Gansu Province in the west, measuring a total length of 8851.8m, among which there are 6259.6km long human-made walls, 359.7 km trenches and 2232.5km natural steep sections.


During the 270 years of Ming Dynasty, the construction of the Great Wall never ceased, on the contrast, it speeded up with unparallel scale, and the construction endeavor falls into three stages. The early period of Ming dynasty (1368~1447) witnessed the prominent restoration projects of the watch towers, troop barracks, garrison stations and signaling capabilities along northwest part of Beijing to Shangxi Province as well as the strongholds between Shanghaiguan Pass and Juyongguan Pass. The middle of Ming dynasty(1448~1566) is characterized by massive scale of constructions, mainly due to the raids from Mongolian tribes. Dozens of key strongholds were constructed in a century. The late period of Ming Dynasty(1567~1620): The rebuilt and route change project mainly took place within Gansu Province.


Further Reading:The Great Wall of Ming Dynasty’s Building Structure and Defense System

 

Different from the Great Wall of Spring and Autumn Era or Qin dynasty, the Great Wall of Ming Dynasty is the upgraded version which comprises walls, passes, watch towers, troop barracks, garrison stations, signaling capabilities.


Walls

 

The Winding Great Wall of Ming Dynasty: when we speak of the Great Wall, it generally refers to the Great Wall of Ming Dynasty which is best preserved and most impressive.

Wall is the main body of the Great Wall, which is made of bricks, stones and earth, etc. Take Juyongguan Pass for example, its exterior wall is composed by stones while its interior wall is filled with earth and gravel. It is 7 to 8 m tall averagely, with bases measuring 6 to 7m in width. Bricks are applied to build the 1.8 m high Duokou(teeth wall,垛口) and 1.2 m high Nvqiang Wall respectively. Each side of the wall is equipped with drainage ditches, and secret corridors are spared for soldiers.


Passes(关城) 


One has to enter or leave the Great Wall by Passes(关城), which all boast prominent military status. Generally speaking, they come in pairs or multiples and are enclosed by brick walls. Some passed are accompanied by subsidiary buildings like water gate or flanked buildings. It is the indispensable part of the Great Wall.

 

Jiayuguan Pass(嘉峪关) : Built in 1372 in Ming dynasty,it is the first important Pass in the west end of the Great Wall.After 168 years' of expansion, it ranks as one of the most magnificent pass just as Juyongguan Pass.

 

Garrison Station(Stronghold,城堡)

 

Relics of Black Valley Stronghold(黑谷关)

 

Garrison Stations are usually built in sites with flat terrain and can be divided into four kinds. They are mainly located at the interior side of the Great Wall, sheltering camping house, soldiers’ dwelling buildings and temples.

 

Watch Towers(墙台,城台)


Each 300m a watch tower will be built on the top of the great wall. Teeth Wall(Duokou,垛口)are built to attack enemies. Besides, the two to three floors enemy buildings are built, accompanied by arches and arrow windows. Its exterior space is designed to contain the soldiers and weapons.

 

 

 

Fire Signal Station(烽火台)


A Fire Signal Station(烽火台) functions as an alarm site when enemies approach. In daytime, people will make smoke and in night, fires are set on to convey the message that danger is luring. Each 1000m, a Fire Signal Station will be set up, a distance within the reach of human beings' hearing and visibility.

 

 
 Hushan Fire Signal Station(虎山烽火台): it is the first Fire Signal Station in the east end of the Great Wall. According to old textbook, the Great Wall of Ming Dynasty starts from Shanhaiguan Pass in the east and ends at Jiayuguan in the west, however, with the discovery of the extending section of the Great Wall of Ming Dynasty in Liaoning Province, the history of the Great Wall is altered. Hushan is the east end of the Great wall now, and the length of the Great Wall is over 17000km.

 

  

Defense System of the Great Wall: Duokou(垛口, the teeth-shaped part of the wall or Merlon) Tiaowangkou(眺望口, it is used for overlooking the enemies) Shekou(射口, it is used for shooting arrows)

 

 

 

 



 

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