Video by Ken Puddicombe

Left on our own by our tour guide to trek up the wall, we joined hundreds of others, most of them I suspect from all over China, arriving to visit the location that is now famous, worldwide.

The section of the wall at Badaling (Chinese for “eight reach ridge”) where we climbed, is the most visited section of a wall that runs approximately 80 kilometers (50 miles) northwest of Beijing and running about 7.6 km (4.7 miles) long. This portion was built around 1504 during the Ming Dynasty and its highest point is 1,015 meters (about 3,330 feet) above sea level.

The wall at Badaling commands a strategic position to protect Beijing to the south and was the first line of defense on the main pass between Beijing and the Mongol tribes in the north (the first Mongol emperor had marched through Badaling with his army and took Beijing, beginning the Yuan Dynasty—1368-1644). First built in 1504, after restoration, this was the first section of the wall to be open to tourism in 1957 and is visited annually by millions of tourists.

Walking the sometimes torturous concrete steps and looking at the surrounding scenery of steep hills, I couldn’t help but wonder about the source and reason for so massive a construction of what was planned as a military stronghold. Its major platforms, watchtowers, signal fire stations and parapets all enabled the repulsion of Mongol tribes from the north. Started around 221 B.C., it took close to 2,000 years to complete and the workforce consisted mainly of soldiers and convicts, eventually claiming the lives of close to 400,000 workers, many of whom are rumoured to be buried in the walls, but this was never verified. Even today, trekkers run the risk of severe injury or even death along the steep trails surrounding the Great Wall.

The thought also occurred to me that engaging soldiers and a civilian workforce in such a massive project guaranteed that the surrounding population would be so involved with the immense project that they wouldn’t have the time or energy to plot an insurrection or attempt to overthrow the emperor. Indeed, those who died, succumbed either to subsistent rations or accidents on the project. And what about the topography itself? The steep hills along Badaling certainly did not provide for an easy invasion, often done on horseback in those days. So why was a colossal wall necessary in the first place?

It was also uplifting to know we were walking in the footsteps of other world leaders and VIPs who thought this section of the wall significant enough to visit. Visitors have included 372 state leaders and VIPs, including presidents Nixon and Regan, Prime Minister Thatcher, and Queen Elizabeth 11.

The Great Wall is now considered among the New Seven Wonders of the World.

Video was taken in 16th July 2016 on our guided tour of the wall.

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