I’m hopping around a bit here, so bear with me. I know I was just talking about my first stop in Seoul last week, and not to fear – I went a TON of other places – but I wanted to take a quick hop to my second favorite, most breath-taking experience in China.
The Great Wall.
I mean, I couldn’t exactly come to China and NOT go to the Great Wall, right?? That’s just silly talk! I chose to visit the Mutianyu portion of the wall, located a good hour, hour and a half outside of Beijing.
Why, isn’t it all the same?
Ah, silly goose… You’ll see in a moment.
First, a bit of history. (Hush, I know you like this part…)
China hasn’t exactly always been a unified, peaceful nation. In order to protect itself, the larger cities/regions would often build walls around themselves to help protect from invasion. Makes sense, right? We saw that all over Europe over the past several centuries, it’s just that the Chinese did it a couple millennia ago.
So all of these regions had walls built of varying sizes, going off in different directions, all intended to protect themselves.
It wasn’t until the Qin Dynasty, some 2,200 years ago, that the empire became unified. In fact, despite the fact that the Dynasty only lasted 15 years (yes, 15 years… Not missing any digits there), they managed to a number of magnificent feats, including the completion of the Great Wall into one, unified entity.
(Heeeey, why does the Qin Dynasty sound so familiar?? Oh right, the First Emperor was also responsible for that other thing I had always dreamed of seeing – the Terracotta Army. This dude had some serious moxy…)
(Another fun note, the Qin Dynasty – pronounced chin – is also why Europeans started calling the nation ‘China’)
So during this time, the people were dealing with their pesky neighbors to the north – even before Genghis Kahn, the Mongolians were raiding the Chinese for limited resources. Like food. They would ride in on their horses, over the hills, then out again, too vast to be caught.
Our Emperor was tired of it and declared that the walls would be connected as well as made of uniform height and width. It took just a touch over ten years for this to be completed, and in total, stretches now over 20,000 kilometers. Proper fortifications along the top of ridges as well as plains so that the raiders could not so easily dash in and out again. In addition, arrow slits were added as well as guardhouses at regular intervals (the cannons were added later).
As I said, those guard towers were set at regular intervals. They were designed not only as additional fortifications for the troops, but also had pits on the top of each for warning fires, filled with oils. This way, if an attack occurred, the nearby towers would be notified for reinforcements as well as local villages were aware of what was happening. You know, just in case.
Now, it wasn’t exactly smooth plains, as you can see. It traveled along the ridges, and the Emperor wanted a consistent height to the wall. This meant it got hella steep in a number of locations. So glad they warned me…
Looking at the initial map between the points I was starting at and going to, I was a bit relieved. It looked all ‘down hill’ from where we started at point 15 on the map, and my exit was at point 6.
Even when I first made it to the top, it looked like a gentle, downward slope…
I was so very, very wrong… I’m just saying, I am so incredibly glad that I’ve gotten so much practice not only walking everywhere but walking up that hill every day for classes and then taking those six flights of stairs from my office to the classroom, because…. well, even with all of that, there were moments… Just wow.
But, by golly, I conquered it!!
Now, as a reminder, there wasn’t exactly a lot of advanced machinery to help build these walls. Men from villages all over the empire were conscripted to complete the work – a tremendous feat to be done in only ten years time. Stone and mortar were obviously used, but that’s not all. Let’s not forget, shall we, that the construction alone was a dangerous feat, and if there was an accident, it’s not as if the body was sent back home.
No, the bodies were simply added into the wall.
The way our tour guide phrased it was ‘buried at the base of the wall,’ but there were no graves to be found. No, if someone died on the Wall – and there were a great number of deaths – they were built into the wall.
Pleasant thought, huh?
Now, not all of the sections of the wall are kept in good repair. Even the area we were at wasn’t as ‘touristy’ as others (though they are trying to improve that). While there were a fair number of people, it wasn’t packed. There are sections that have fallen significantly into disrepair and are much more ‘wild’ than even where I was. If I have the opportunity to return to Bejing, I want to take a hike to those areas. Even from where I was at, I could see off-shoots that weren’t in as good of condition as the section I was on. Noone was walking them or likely even sure how to get there. I’m sure some of these areas fell into disrepair because of how steep the walls are or any number of reasons. With 20,000+ km plus countless branches, it’s a bit difficult to keep it all in good working order.
Don’t worry. I’ve gone ahead and claimed it as my own. It’s a wonder no one else had thought of this before me… I promise to take good care of it.
Wait, I was just talking about all those corpses… *sighs* This could be why Devlin was so very certain that I wouldn’t leave China without some kind of curse. He may have had a point…
Now, I wanted to take my friends and family on a bit of a walk across the wall. I felt it only fair to share with the rest of you. Beware the shaky cam…
But why THIS PORTION of the wall?? Simple, really… I wanted to ride the Toboggan! Duh.