Structure of the Wall - Clay, Stone, Brick- and Mud Walls :
Introduction to the Structures that make up the Great Wall of China :
The Great Wall of China today is known worldwide as a huge defense system, usually thought of as a nearly impenetrable and continuous wall manned by masses of soldiers. In reality however, it was not always quite that magnificent.
Construction on the Great Wall of China began as early as the 7Th Century B.C. in a time known as the "Sping and Autumn Period". In this period of Chinese History, although officially central powers were still intact and the Eastern Zhou Dynasty held sway over the Han peoples realm, in reality the Zhou State was increasingly frought with internal strife resulting in the forming of several states (kingly realms) within. One of these states vying for power and influence was the State of Chu, a rather militaristic state situated in south and central China.
It is the State of Chu which is known to have built a large square (fortified) city, a first walled defense, which today is taken as the first beginning of a "Great Wall of China".
As the military successes of Chu piled and smaller neighboring states were absorbed into the Chu Realm, the policy of building walls was extended across this growing Kingdom and in due time real defensive walls were created in strategic points. That is, as turmoil in China continued, the Zhou Dynasty (1121 B.C. - 255 B.C.) finally terminated flinging the already fragmented realm into its next painfull episode marked down as the "Warring States Period".
- Structures of the Great Wall of China of the Ming Dynasty -
Great Wall of China
China Report - Map of the Great Wall during the Ming Dynasty
Satellite image of China and North-East Asia, with a super-imposed schematic Map of the location and Path of the Great Wall as constructed during the Reign of the Ming Dynasty. Included for reference are City names, geographical features of landscape, Names and locations of Passes on the Great Wall of China.
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A Full Google Earth Supported Map Overview of All Structures of the Great Wall of China from East to West, by DrBen.Net (c) ChinaReport.com and Google.com.
One can divide and categorize the Great Wall of China Sections from the building materials
used in their construction. In this way their are 6 categories: earth, stone, brick-stone, palings,
cliffs and cliff-palings.
The Earth Wall is shaped during construction by the simple ramming of loess, or otherwise built with adobes. The very earliest historic walls that can be recognized as a first beginning of the Great Wall were constructed in this way. Not much remains of these early walls but out in the dryness and remoteness of the western provinces. An example in case can still be found in Hanxian County of Shaanxi Province where walls of both the Northern Wei Dynasty Era (386 A.D. – 535 A.D.) and the Sui Dynasty Era (589 A.D. – 618 A.D.) are located. An even earlier earthen "Great Wall", dating to Qin Dynasty Era (221 B.C. - 207 B.C.) can be found in Guyuan County of Guyuan City Prefecture in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, although the remnants are extremely hard to locate in the varying terrain.
The early Walls erected by the Dynasties of the far past to protect their turf from other vicious neighbors were made exclusively of earth (a stone wall costs about a 100 times more in effort and materials to construct), however much of the Great Wall built and maintained during the Ming Dynasty (1368 A.D. - 1644 A.D.) was also constructed in much the same manner. Many 100's of miles of these remain even today, lining and dotting the landscape in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region and Gansu Province all the way to its very end at Jiayuguan and Fortress Pass City. Other sections also 100's of miles have since been badly damaged, are eroded and at some points have crumbled to but wide line in the earth that can still be tracked.
Many sections of the stone wall are well kept, however until fairly recently only a few attracted many visitors due to the distance of travel and mountainous terrain. The most famous sections are all in reach of the City of Beijing; these are Badaling, Mutianyu and because of it spectacular features Simatai (in Beijing). Since the economic boom and accompanying large scale of roads and highways outlying sections of the Great Wall of China are increasingly popular destinations. The "new" tourist magnets are Jinshanling (Beijing), Jiangjunguan - famous for its Beijing Great Wall marathon (Beijing) and ShanhaiGuan and Laolongtou in the East (Qinhuangdao).
An Earth wall could be damaged or collapse easily while digging was going on around it. Furthermore, large parts of China are earthquake prone. Thus, walls or parts of the wall did collapse. Leaving them as piles of rubble would weaken the defenses. Maintaining earthen walls or mud walls, in the end proved too much work.
During the Ming Dynasty Era a final solution for this longstanding problem was invented.
In the Ming Dynasty Era bricks and a bar stones (long stones) were used to renovate mud parts of the Great Wall that wall that had crumpled or partially collapsed. Especially the section in Jiahou County is famous for these features. It proved to be a very effective method of shoring up and stabilizing the otherwise weakened structure.
The methods where then further refined resulting in a totally new type of wall known as the brick-stone wall. A good example of the brick-stone wall can be found the Great Wall Section at Badaling.
At Badaling the Great Wall and its Towers seem to be a solid stone structure, however this is not entirely the case. Using the new brick-stone wall method, a foundation of long stones was laid to ensure stability. On top of this bricks were laid around the outside, with the interior then being filled in, not with stone or rubble, but with a special mix of loess soil, broken stone and lime. The filling mixture was than rammed and slowly hardened, creating an especially hardened earthen wall, which could then serve as the core for the further bastion(s) of the Great Wall.
The Wall was completed by adding up to four or five layers of bricks on the top, creating the appearance of a solid stone wall, where inside there is an earthen wall.
Watchtowers and fighting platforms were then added where needed (and planned).
As time has proven, this new type of wall was especially hard, leaving even the most damaged and ruined parts visible in the landscape as a (near) continuous earthen ridge, often strewn with stones of the wall or with remaining standing parts and ruins of watchtowers. To see the brick-stone wall in this condition, one has to get out into the Province and hike along the wall for miles.
Cliffs were also used as part of the Great Wall. When the wall reached a Cliff, the cliff might be manually cut flat on its outer surface and fit into the main structure of the wall. This type of wall was called a cut-cliff wall, as its visual appearance made it appear as if the wall had been seemlessly cut by a massive falling rock.
At some other points Palings were installed atop the natural obstacle of a cliff thus creating what is known as the "Cliff-Palings" or "Cliff Paling Fence". Palings are nothing more than sharp sticks or better yet entire branches or logs that are sharpened at the end and fixated into the ground or a wall or cliff. The 'point' of course is to impale anyone or anything trying to advance on the defenders.
Not many visitors are aware of this fact today, but in ancient times when the Great Wall was still active, soldiers used to cut down trees and insert their pointed logs at the base of the Great Wall. In addition they bound several tree logs together creating what is known as paling fences. They were mostly intended as a weapon against attacking Cavalry, forcing a horse to stop or impale.
Palings are known to have been common along the length of the Great Wall in the Eastern provinces as in these mountainous and hilly regions there were sufficient trees to be found. In the desert-like Western Provinces would was and is not readily available, which is why other methods of defense were deployed.
Apart from the Great Wall as known to the world, the Great Wall near Beijing, there are several other sections of the Great Wall of China that have been constructed from stone. For instance, the Northern Guanglu Section was built in mountains and deserts and was made out of stone. Study of the ruins revealed that the wall itself was about 3 meters in height, with its foundations wider than three meters.
Contrary to popular beliefs, the stone construction of the Great Wall was by no means limited to the Ming Dynasty Era only (the last Era of construction on the Great Wall).
The State of Zhao built stone walls in the tumultuous Spring and Autumn Period (770 B.C. - 746 B.C.). Stone walls were thus built as early as the 8th century B.C. This stone wall is the first known to have existed, however so far no remains have been identified.
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Helpful Geographic Map of Inner-Mongolia showing the larger geographic relations in the Region. Inner Mongolia surrounds Beijing City, but the city lies protected behind a ring of mountains. Across the mountains lies the Wall
As archeologists and historians have found, the Great Wall found in the Yinshan Mountain sector of Inner-Mongolia Autonomous Region which consists entirely of stone was built on the orders of Emperor Qin Huangdi, the first Emperor to unite the Han Chinese thus creating China. The stone wall built in this corner of Western Inner-Mongolia can still be found and traced today. Its ruins today are about 3 meters in height and is locally known as the "Purple Wall" due to the fact that overtime, the iron in the stones used in the wall have oxidized and so turned a purple color.
Later Era's and Dynasties saw the rise of further stone "Great Wall's" until the stone wall found its highpoint during the Ming Era.
Another example in case has become a fairly popular tourist destination. The remains of this stone wall, built in the Northern Qi Era (479 A.D. - 502 A.D.) measures but a 100 meters in length, however its proximity of only 120 kilometers to Beijing make it easy to reach. The section is known as Huangyaguan and is found in Jixian County of Tianjin City Province (just across the border of Beijing City Province).
In the Desert where far fewer materials were available walls were built nevertheless. In this case the Great Wall was built by piling reeds found in marsh area's and near oasis lakes, tamarisk twigs and sand and stones together in a layer by layer fashion. The End Result was then pasted with a maxiture of mud and animal dung (horse, mule or camel). The building of such a wall was an arduous task that took a lot of manpower but in the end it resulted in meters high walls that could withstand both the climate and substanstantial attack.
The oldest Mud Walls that survive to this day were built during the Han Dynasty Era and are exclusively found in the arid deserts near Dunhuang. In following centruies and millenia the construction of mud walls and beacons continued. In the Ming Era 100's of miles of mud wall were built across the west.
Many miles of mud built Great Wall in the West are still in fairly reasonable condition although sand erosion, desertification, tourism and development are slowly taking their toll.
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Below: the oldest mud wall in China known as Han Chancheng - Great Wall of China of the Han Dynasty near Dunhuang.
an utter War of attrition. It was in this lengthy and painful episode in Chinese History that the first real defensive Walls evolved, both as a marking of the borders between neighboring states and often as defensive walls hoping to exclude a hostile army.
Thus, the first "Walls of China" were built by the States of Chu and its smaller and frightened northern neighbor Qi. Some of the ruins of these very early walls can stil be found in south Hebei Province, Shandong Province and south Shanxi Province.
Subsequently, all walls previously built were united in the short but influential Rule of the Qin Dynasty (221 B.C. - 207 B.C.), who united not only China (all Chinese States) but embarked upon the unprecendented building of walls, uniting all defensive walls built previously during the Warring States Period into one giant structure. This Wall built on orders of Emperor Qin is described to have been "10.000 Li" long (which should be taken as symbolic for "very long") stretching between southern Gansu Province in the West all the way to Pyongyang on the Korean Peninsula in the East and it was the first version of what is today understood as the Great Wall of China.
Construction of the Great Wall of China continued with intermittence for the next two millennia, being undertaken during the succesful Han Dynasty (206 B.C. - 221 A.D), the Western- and Eastern Jin Dynasties (265 A.D. - 420 A.D.), the Northern Wei Dynasty (Also known as Tuoba Wei)(386 A.D. - 534 A.D.), the Northern Qi Dynasty (550 A.D. - 577 A.D.), the Northern Zhou Dynasty (557 A.D. - 581 A.D.), the Sui Dynasty (589 A.D. - 618 A.D.), the Liao Dynasty (Khitan Empire - 907 A.D. - 1125 A.D.), the Jin Dynasty (1115 A.D. - 1234 A.D.) and finally the Ming Dynasty (1368 A.D. - 1644 A.D.).
By the time of the Ming Dynasty the Great Wall had finally evolved into its most solid, most effective and most impressive form stretching across no less than 15 Chinese Provinces and comprising a total of 50 thousand li, around 25.000 kilometers of Wall. It was an is one of the greatest cultural and architectural achievements in all of human history.
The Great Wall of China in the Ming Dynasty was a "10.000 Li" (very long) long defense line, composed of the main element of a defensive wall in combination with other structures such as entrenchements and moats, fortifications and double walls, pass cities, block cities and castles, plus watchtowers and beacon towers.
To get a better understanding of all structures involved in the creation of the complete defensive work that the Great Wall of China was, please read through below Chapters.