The Great Wall of China, one of the greatest wonders of the world, raises curiosity from its origins to the myths of its visibility to the moon. With a construction process of 2300 years, a length of 21,196.18 kilometers and the use of 100,000,000 tonnes of material, the 长城 (Chang Cheng), or “Long Wall” in Chinese, is an exceptional accomplishment of defensive architecture, with one strategic purpose – to protect China and to preserve its culture.
But how could this masterpiece built only by human hands be completed?
The Great Wall is a result of more than one million people working day and night. The challenging landscapes and the evolution of building methods resulted in the use of various materials, such as sand, wood and bricks, but also anything else available, such as food (rice flour) or even human rests (bodies of dead workers)! Originally, the project was conceived by the Emperor Qin Shi Huang in 221 B.C. to protect the Chinese Empire from incursion of outsiders, especially the Mongolians. The following emperors kept on extending the wall at an intermittent pace. However, Ming dynasty (1386-1644 A.D.), brought a decisive turn in the building of the Wall, by combining the existing parts built under the dynasty of Qin and extending it by 8,851.8 kilometers. Quite impressive, right?
So, what was the secret behind this rapid progress?
During the Ming dynasty the Chinese implemented mass production of bricks to their strategy. They also included a new material, lime mortar, a mixture of lime and sand, to the manufacturing process. This mortar turned out to be as strong as concrete blocks. Due to the new “secret ingredient” most of the parts remaining today as well as the most visited parts of the Wall, Simatai, Mutianyu, Jinshanling and Badaling, were actually the ones built under the Ming Dynasty.
This project would not have been possible without the formidable number of builders. Originally, Qin picked soldiers for the construction, but he ordered people from other backgrounds, such as farms workers, teachers, musicians or even criminals, to participate in the project. For them, this was an unfortunate destiny – many of them spent their whole life building the Great Wall and anyone who had a say about the operation was killed. Many lives were lost during the process and some of the bodies got buried under the wall.
According to specialists, up to 70 percent of the original wall still exists, including parts built during the Qin dynasty. However, the specialists warn that the monument is in danger of vanishing. The enormous number of visitors, the natural forces, the restoration process of the wall and people stealing the stones of the Great Wall slowly erode the monument.