Great Wall Construction

Great Wall Construction remains one of the most incredible feats of engineering in the world that took a ton of laborers to build. Its construction and reconstruction spans several centuries. Construction of the Great Wall began around 220 BC. It was built on and off for many centuries until the 1500s. If you want to know accurately about the “Great Wall”,  you need to first specify where and when a section was constructed, as the Great Wall of China was constructed by different dynasties over the past two millennia.

Great Wall Construction Through the Centuries

With the death of Qin Shi Huang and the fall of the Qin Dynasty, much of the Great Wall fell into disrepair. The fate of the Great Wall fluctuated between the fall of the Han Dynasty in AD 220 and the rise of the Ming Dynasty in 1368. Some dynasties, such as the Tang and Yuan, saw no need for the construction of massive defensive walls, and hence did not make important additions to the Great Wall. Others, such as the Sui and Liao Dynasties, saw a need for extra border defenses, thus prompting the building of new walls and fortifications. On the whole, however, much of the original walls built during the Qin and Han Dynasties were not maintained. Over time, these walls which were commonly built with rammed earth, were eroded by the elements, and few sections have survived till this day.

Construction Timeline of China Great Wall

Period Condition
Zhou Dynasty (7 Cen. BC – 3 Cen. BC) The dukes of Chu, Qi, Wei, Zhao, and Yan States built separate walls to protect their own states.
Qin Dynasty (214 BC – 204 BC) Emperor Qin Shihuang ordered Mengtian to connect and extend the walls of formers states to defend the northern border.
Han Dynasty (201BC – 101 BC) Emperor Wu commanded improvements to the wall 4 times to block the northern Huns and protect the safety of Silk Road.
Northern Wei Dynasty (423 – 543) The Great Wall of the Northern Wei Dynasty protected their territory from Rouran, a minority nation.
Northern Qi Dynasty (550 – 565) Emperors of Northern Qi valued the Great Wall very much, and there were 5 large-scale renovations.
Sui Dynasty (581 – 608) It was a peaceful period and Emperor Wen of Sui mainly repaired sections built by previous dynasties.
Jin Dynasty (1194 – 1211) The Wall of the Jin, known as Jin Jiehao, was erected to defend against the northern nomadic tribes.
Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1620) The construction never stopped in the Ming Dynasty and most sections we see today were built in this period.
Qing Dynasty (1638 – 1878) The emperors in Qing Dynasty repaired sections built by previous dynasties and built seven new defensive sections.

Major Construction Periods

According to historical documents, more than 20 vassal countries and feudal dynasties have involved in the building of the Great Wall. Totalling the Great Wall built in each era, there are more than 100,000 miles. The length of the Great Wall built in Qin, Han and Ming dynasties is more than 10,000 miles.

Qin Dynasty

the Great Wall was originally conceived by Emperor Qin Shi Huang in the third century B.C. as a means of preventing incursions from barbarian nomads. The Emperor ordered that earlier fortifications between states be removed and a number of existing walls along the northern border be joined into a single system that would extend for more than 10,000 li (a li is about one-third of a mile) and protect China against attacks from the north. From a base of 15 to 50 feet, the Great Wall rose some 15-30 feet high and was topped by ramparts 12 feet or higher; guard towers were distributed at intervals along it.

Han Dynasty 

The Great Wall of the Han Dynasty was mostly built by 121 BC, in order to defend against harassment from the Xiongnu (the Mongol Empire of the time), consolidate frontiers, and protect trade relationships with countries in West Asia. The Han Dynasty extended the Great Wall west in the Gansu/Hexi Corridor. There are sections in Ejinaqi in today’s Inner Mongolia, and Jinta, Yumen, Jiayuguan, Guazhou, and Dunhuang in Gansu. Further beacon towers, castles, and smoke towers were built on the Silk Road until Lop Nor.

Read More about Beacon Towers of China Great Wall

Ming Dynasty

The Ming Great Wall, built by the Ming dynasty (1368–1644), forms the most visible parts of the Great Wall of China today. A comprehensive archaeological survey, using advanced technologies, has concluded that the Ming walls measure 8,850 km (5,500 mi) from Jiayu Pass in the west to the sea in Shanhai Pass, then looping over to terminate in Manchuria at the Hushan Great Wall. This is made up of 6,259 km (3,889 mi) sections of actual wall, 359 km (223 mi) of trenches and 2,232 km (1,387 mi) of natural defensive barriers such as hills and rivers.

Current Condition of China Great Wall

While some portions near tourist centers have been preserved and even reconstructed, in many locations the Wall is in disrepair, serving as a playground for some villages and a source of stones to rebuild houses and roads. Sections of the Wall are also prone to graffiti. Parts have been destroyed because the Wall is in the way of construction sites. Intact or repaired portions of the Wall near developed tourist areas are often plagued with hawkers of tourist kitsch.

Read More about Current Situation of The Great Wall of China

How the Great Wall of China was Constructed?

The Great Wall easily required the greatest human effort of any ancient construction! 100 million tonnes of bricks, stone, and soil were transported and assembled by millions of soldiers, peasants, prisoners, and animals using basic rope, wood, and basket systems on remote terrain ranging from parched desert to steep mountain ridges.

Throughout the centuries, construction techniques naturally grew more advanced as different dynasties repaired and built on the earlier walls. The early sections of the Wall–first built 2,000 years ago—were naturally much less sophisticated and sturdy. The vast majority of these early sections of the wall have disappeared after so many centuries of erosion. 

Taking Advantage of the Forbidden Terrain

The Great Wall was built approximately in the belt areas along Daxinganling Mountain, Yanshan Mountain, Yinshan Mountain, Helan Mountain, Minshan Mountain And Hengduan Mountain. The ancient workers built the Great Wall in the places of great strategic value and at the same time made the best use of the mountains and rivers as natural defense. Most parts of the great wall were built along the mountain ridge, for the sheer mountain ridge could add more defensive value to the wall. Besides, the outer side of the wall is lofty and impassable while the inner side is comparatively flat and easy of access, and this is because the outer side was for keeping enemies out and the inner side was for soldiers’ enter and exit. When the wall reached the most danger-ridden cliffs, the builders would stop building the wall and take the cliffs as a natural barrier. This design can be found in many sections such as simatai great wall and it is called by experts “the mountain-supported wall”.

Great Wall Building: Materials

Builders of the wall always tried to use local resources, so the walls that crossed mountains were made from stone, and the walls that crossed the plains were made from rammed earth. When the wall passed through the desert, the materials used were juniper tamarisks and sanded reeds. 

The materials used when the Great Wall was first built were mostly rammed earth and loess since weapon technology wasn’t very advanced. The Ming dynasty brought with it new, stronger materials for the Great Wall. They used bricks, stone slabs and lime.

How to Move the Building Materials?

The great wall is mostly built in the high mountains and deep valleys, where the transportation of construction materials is rather difficult. how the ancient people solved this problem? According to historical records and legend, there are three ways.

  • First and the chief of all, is manpower. the large amount of stones, earth, bricks, pieces of wood and lime were frequently carried by labors on their shoulders or backs.
  • Second, some simple machinery was put into use. the workers used rolling logs, crowbars and winding gears to carry the building materials to the mountains. in valleys, they put the stones into baskets, tied the baskets to the rope and set it down along the rope to the opposite valleys, which greatly reduced manpower.
  • Third, animals were driven to difficult places. the animals which are good at climbing mountains like goats and donkeys weighted down with bricks, stones and other building materials were chased into the steep mountains, which largely saved the transportation time and the cost of labor force.

Chinese ancient builders used their wisdom and iron perseverance to finish this fabulous project. this unparalleled national treasure, which was born under an exceedingly primitive and backward condition and grew longer and longer at a significant cost of labors and countless lives, fully shows the great spirit of self-sacrifice and innovative creativity of Chinese ancient laboring people

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