The first walls were constructed during the seventh century BC to protect individual kingdoms in China from warring neighbours. When Qin Shi Huang conquered and united China – becoming the first Emperor in 221 BC – he ordered that the sections of wall be joined into one great defence.
Here are 5 facts about the Great Wall of China…
MYTHS AND LEGENDS
There are several misconceptions about the bulwarks. It is not a single wall, but a series of fortifications, some of which run parallel to each other, and there is no truth to the legend that the Great Wall can be seen from space.
THE REALLY GREAT WALL
If you added up all the branches built throughout the Great Wall’s history, then its total length would be 13,171 miles. That is longer than the distance between London and the capital of New Zealand, Auckland.
It is impossible to know how many millions of construction workers were used over the millennia to build the walls. Those who died – which could number in the hundreds of thousands – were buried in the foundations of the Great Wall.
LIGHT THE BEACONS
During the Ming dynasty, watchtowers were developed to warn of a Mongol invasion. Detachments of soldiers were stationed in each tower and, if they saw someone approaching, they would send up a column of smoke to raise the alarm. At night, huge bonfires were lit.
A LEGENDARY PLACE
Dozens of legends surround the Great Wall. One of the most enduring is the myth of Meng Jiangnu, the wife of one of the builders who died. According to the story, when she learned of his death, she cried so hard that it caused a section of the wall to collapse.
This article was first published in the May 2015 issue of History Revealed.