The Great Wall
The Great Wall is an unmatched attraction in many ways. Historians count it as one of the greatest human accomplishments, a building project with the longest duration and greatest cost in human work and sacrifice. Architects revere the enduring value of its design and construction. As a fortification, it served to defend China for centuries. For all of these reasons and more, it has been known as one of the “Seven Wonders of the World,” a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the top tourist attraction in China.
Stretching for more than 10,000 km, or 6,214 miles, visiting the Great Wall is a true journey. As Chairman Mao himself once said, “until you reach the Great Wall, you’re no hero.” So a first-time visitor might wonder, “where should I begin?” Here are five recommended sections:
- The Great Wall at Mutianyu
Mutianyu (which means “Admire Fields Valley”) is the longest fully restored Great Wall section open to tourists. Featuring 22 original-style watchtowers winding through beautiful mountain scenery, easier walking conditions and fewer crowds, this is an excellent introduction to the Great Wall.
This is arguably the best-preserved and most popular sections of the Great Wall. At over 1,000 meters, or 3,281 feet, above sea level, Badaling commanded a strategic position for both transportation and defense in ancient times. Badaling (which means “reach eight directions”) is named for the maze of nearby ridges stretching in all directions. This section provides easy walking conditions and is conveniently accessible.
- The Simatai Great Wall
This section is less crowded and has more rugged walking conditions at a steeper grade. The Simatai section of the Great Wall is one of the few sections retaining the original appearance of the Great Wall. Incorporating a variety of characteristics of other sections of the Great Wall, Simatai is often described as perilous, dense, diverse, artful, and peculiar. The watchtowers located along the spectacular mountain ridges particularly impress many visitors.
This section (Shanhai Pass) has been known as the “First Pass under Heaven” since ancient times. It is strategically important as the beginning of the eastern-most section of the Great Wall. Laolongtou (which means “Old Dragon’s Head”) is the place where the wall meets the Pacific Ocean at Bohai Sea. Shanhaiguan is a tourist complex with six areas: Laolongtou (Old Dragon’s Head), Temple of Meng Jiang Nü, Jiaoshan Mountain, First Pass under Heaven, Longevity Mountain, and Yansai Lake.
This section (Jiayu Pass) – also known as “the First and Greatest Pass under Heaven” – is located at the most western end of the Great Wall. Jiayu Pass is well-preserved and offers an excellent example of military building. Jiayu Pass is located at the narrowest point of the western part of Hexi Corridor, and was a key passageway of the ancient Silk Road. It commands awe-inspiring views of the Gobi Desert and snow-capped Qilian Mountains.