China is a land steeped in tradition and legend; it is not surprising that its most distinctive landmark, the Great Wall, is as enshrouded in myth and fantasy. One story holds that a benevolent dragon traced the course of the Wall for the workers, who followed his tracks. Another says that its mortar was made of human bones – perhaps of the million people supposed to have died during its construction. Luckily, the mortar is made of rice flour! But the legend, mingled with fact, is what makes the Great Wall of China such a fascinating structure. What else can we discover?
No, you cannot see it from space, but the Great Wall is no less magnificent. Construction began around 221 BC and continued until 1644. The series of walls was not a military barrier, but rather a declaration of the frontier and a major employer. It was, as well, an impressive show of strength and grandeur. Today, the best place to experience the Great Wall is via Beijing. This section was built during the Ming Dynasty and so is the “youngest.” While many other parts are closed to walkers, you can find plenty to explore in the 7 legally open bits of “tamed” wall.
This is one of the most popular attractions in the world – so be prepared for crowds! It is best to avoid going on weekends or public holidays when crowds are at their most dense. Weather can be another limiting factor: summers are very hot, and you’ll need to stay covered and hydrated. Winter brings frigid temperatures, and the risk that some sections may be closed due to snow. Fellow tourists will be fewer in number though.
Depending on your travel needs and what you want to see and experience, you can select different sections of the wall. Juyongguan, for instance, is ideal if you want a quick look but don’t have all day to spend at the Great Wall. Beautiful scenery and mountains surround this section. The Badaling Great Wall is the most popular with visitors. It is convenient to access, picturesque, and of great historical significance. Mutianyu Great Wall is less busy than these other two sections and offers a 2.5 walk that lets you explore 22 towers and the gorgeous valleys on either side.
Other sections that are more rugged to hike are the Shixiagan Great Wall, Jinshanling Great Wall, Gubeikou Great Wall, and Huanghuacheng Great Wall. The Simatai Great Wall is closed temporarily, but check on its accessibility before your trip. There are also handicapped accessible routes, so inquire about those as well.
The crowds and temperatures, whether soaring or plunging, are forgotten as soon as you see and walk through this vibrant piece of history.