Traveling to the Great Wall

The Great Wall of China is the only man-made structure that can be seen from the moon with the naked eye. It is 4,160 miles long and is up to 25 feet high. Built over 2000 years ago by Qin Shi Huangdi, the first emperor of China, it was built as protection to keep the Xiongnu away from the farming villages along the Chinese border. It was finished by two other dynasties, the Han and the Ming dynasty, and the ingenuity they used to build such a massive structure without modern tools is incredible even today. Each dynasty used specific styles and materials to build its section of the wall, and each section has its distinct beauty.

As stated, the wall was constructed firstly to protect individual states from nomadic tribes invading the farming villages on the Chinese border. However, it became “The Great Wall” when Qin Shi had all the sections of the wall merged together to ward off invading Huns. The Ming dynasty, when fortifying the wall and creating their sections, were warding off the Mongolians who had already left their mark on much of China with their pillaging, rape, and scarring of the countryside. The wall was, indeed, successful in stopping the Mongolians from destroying China.

The Great Wall of China carries with it a great deal of symbolism and mysticism as does many things in the Chinese culture. It is said to be a symbol of wisdom and bravery of Chinese people. Many legends have also come frome the wall. One such story is that the collapse of one section being caused by the tears and grief of Meng Jiangnu whose husband lost his life while building the wall. Songs, stories, and even an opera have been written regarding this story. Another is that Zhou You Wang, a king in the Zhou dynasty lit a fire many times to please his lover even though he was not under attack, just to spite principalities. Legend has it there was an attack, but when he lit the fire no one came to save him.

A visit to the Great Wall is something one will never forget. To be close to such majesty and such magnificence is awe-inspiring and incredible. There are some things to consider when visiting the wall, however. For instance, the season of year is important. If one would want to enjoy the trees and flowers in bud and avoid the summer rush, then spring is an ideal time to visit the wall. Snow blankets the wall in the winter, adding wonder (and frigid temperatures) to the scene. And fall lends its own glorious color. There are eight Great Wall sites at Beijing, some accessible by cable car, some only by foot. Sturdy shoes and steady feet will be needed. Some hikes and bike tours last as long as two hours, so the elderly would be wise to see which sections would be closer to access by vehicle. There are tours that are guided and provide all-inclusive meals, and some even provide opportunities to sleep on the wall overnight. If you are experiencing the wall on your own adventure be sure to bring plenty of water and be equipped with a travel phone in case of an emergency. They will provide the sleeping bags and flashlights; the guests provide the adventuring spirit.

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