Get orientated – Formerly said to be around 6,000km long, the Great Wall of China is now thought to stretch over 21,000km, thanks to a re-measuring in 2012. But regardless of its proportions, the wall has long been an iconic symbol of China. It adorns postcards and brochures, and attracts travellers from all corners of the globe. The wall runs from Shanhaiguan (Hebei province) in the east to Jiayuguan (Gansu province) in the west; en route it snakes across lush mountains, ominous desert and vast swathes of rural China. Dotted along some sections of the wall are watchtowers.
Previously used as military lookouts, signalling posts and even living quarters, they now serve a more scenic purpose, providing platforms from which to appreciate the views. Built over the course of 13 dynasties, this impressive feat of engineering is more than 2,000 years old in parts, though modern restoration has been carried out at certain points to restore it to its former splendour.
Badaling, 70km north-west of Beijing, is one of the most popular, accessible and comprehensively reconstructed parts. Untouched sections, such as the majestically crumbling wall at Simatai, appeal to more adventurous explorers searching for history and greater authenticity. To add a stiffer challenge to your Great Wall journey, climb the steep hillside ruins that circle around the large reservoir at Huanghua Cheng, 60km from Beijing.
Getting there – Emirates flies London Gatwick-Beijing via Dubai from around £530 return. To get to Badaling from Beijing, take Subway Line 2 from Beijing Railway Station, get off at Jishuitan Station and take Bus 919 to the rear hill at Badaling; this is where the cable car ticket office is located.
The visit – Several sections of wall are visitable from Beijing. The stretch of Ming-era wall at Badaling has been renovated and restored to make it accessible for tourists and to give an impression of its former greatness. Admission costs from CNY45 (£4.50) in high season (April-October); a return ticket for the cable car costs CNY100 (£10.20). Arriving early and on a weekday is recommended to avoid the crowds, especially if you plan on hiking along the wall. For fewer tourists visit scenic Mutianyu, 60km from Beijing, where you can walk a 2.5km stretch dotted with 22 watchtowers. The partially restored sections of wall at Simatai (120km from Beijing) and Huangha (65km) are well worth a trip. For the best, clearest weather, visit in spring (April/May); summer can be hot and humid, winters cold.
The Great Wall is a symbol of China’s historic detachment and sense of vulnerability. Originally a series of disparate earthen ramparts built by Individual states, the Great Wall was created only after the unification of China under Oln Shi Huangdl (221-210BC). The wall ultimately proved Ineffective; It was breached In the 13th century by the Mongols and, In the 17th century, by the Manchu.
Watchtowers – A Ming addition, these served as signal towers, forts, living quarters and storerooms for provisions. They were spaced two arrow shots apart to leave no part unprotected.
Carriageway – This is, on average, 8m high and 7m wide.
Ramparts – These enabled defending soldiers to fire down on their attackers with impunity.
Reconstruction – This shows a section of the wall as built by the most prolific wall builders, the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). The section at Badallng, built around 1505, is similar to this and was restored in the 1950s and 1980s.
Panoramic views – Because the wall took advantage of the natural terrain for defensive purposes, following the highest points and dinging to ridges, it now offers superb panoramic views.
Signal beacons – These were used to warn of attack-the fire was created by burning dried wolf dung.
Cannons – Another Ming addition, cannons were used to defend the wall and summon help.
Crumbling ruins – Most of the wall is still unrestored and has crumbled away, leaving only the core remaining.
Composition of wall – Under a surface of stone slabs and bricks Is a layer of tampered earth and rubble, then a layer of bigger rocks and stones, then large, locally quarried rocks. The outer wall Is made of kiln-fired bricks, cemented with a mortar of lime and glutinous rice.