Friday, February 24, 2012

walking the wall over you

The Great Wall of China is China’s star tourist attraction.  The center ring attraction.

And it should be.  As an engineering feat, it is a wonder to behold. 

Designed as a military defense mechanism to repel invaders, it stretches 4000 miles -- almost across the breadth of modern China.  And cost the lives of millions of Chinese workers to build.

We visited the wall at Juyongguan Pass -- just outside of Beijing.  At the height of its military glory, the pass was protected by a fort and garrison.  The wall stretches east and west from the fort over mountains that would discourage the strongest of armies.

Of course, as is true of all fixed fortifications, the wall was only partially successful.  One group it was designed to repel was the Manchus.  But they got through and ruled China as the Qing dynasty for 268 years.

One of the challenges of a visit to the wall is to prove one’s mettle by climbing the steps to the guard towers.  That sounds easier than it is.

The steps have a steep rise.  A very steep rise.  Some were even with my knees -- presenting obstacles to the very young and old.

The stairs are not so much to be climbed as to be scaled.  Chinese soldiers in their armor must have been quite fit simply to commute to work each day.

But the view is worth the climb.  Well, the view -- and a sense of being part of an ancient history.

There is an urban myth that the wall can be seen from the moon.  Or, at least, from earth orbit.

It can’t.  It may be long, but it is not wide enough to be seen by the naked eye from space.  But the myth lives on.

That fact does not take away from the wall’s grandeur seen from ground level.  Invaders must have felt like Hobbits standing before the gates of Mordor when they first encountered the wall.

The wall was one visit where I wished we could have spent a full day.  Simply to climb to distant towers and dream about protecting one of the world’s greatest civilizations.


Beth said...

I agree - I wish we could have spent the whole day at the Great Wall as well.  I did get a kick out of the vendors on the wall that were selling beer and soda.  Communism, yes - but every now and then you see these odd free-market economy vignettes.

John Calypso said...

I thought the pieces/parts of that wall were more like 5,500 miles long - no?  In any case a wonderful experience I would imagine - thanks for sharing.

Steve Cotton said...

The desire for economic freedom is like grass.  It will poke its leaves through the concrete.

Steve Cotton said...

 It depends on which parts of the fortification are measured.  The 5000 figure includes ditches.

Andean said...

Those are a lot of steps to climb!
What is the last picture of, they almost all look like spears except one?

Steve Cotton said...

Chinese weapons. But I liked their texture with the wall in the background.