Great Wall

The Great Wall of China is one of those cultural treasures you just have to witness. It was begun in the days of the first Chinese emperor Qin Shi Huangdi (reigned 221–210 BC), and massively extended during the Ming dynasty, eventually becoming more than 6350 km (3945 miles) long in total.

The Great Wall is a colossal feat of engineering, huge in scale and breadth, beaded with countless watchtowers and gates, and built at the cost of thousands of lives. A section of the Great Wall lies some 70 km (45 miles) from Beijing, so this is good base from which to set out to see it. You won't be alone: only a few restricted segments of the wall are accessible to visitors (ostensibly for reasons of conservation), notably at Badaling. This part of the Great Wall is served by the squadrons of tour buses making their daily excursions.

The Great Wall at Badaling has been heavily restored, in fact more or less totally rebuilt, but it is still impressive for the sense of the sheer might of this endeavour, and also for the landscape that surrounds it. The Badaling experience includes a museum and explanatory film show, plus cable-cars, restaurants and teahouses, shops, insistent hawkers, photographers with camels – and (particularly at weekends in summer) crowds and crowds of visitors. If you are on a tour bus, your time on the wall will be limited – so if you want to get away from the crowds before your time is up, you may have to run, literally.

Tour buses also go to the less crowded and very steep segment of the Great Wall at Simatai, 110 km (68 miles) from Beijing. These tours often include other sights in the area, the most significant of which are the Ming Tombs, a collection of huge and ornate buildings and monumental sculpture 45 km (28 miles) from Beijing, where thirteen of the sixteen Ming emperors were laid to rest.

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