Structure of the Wall - Fighting Platform and Watchtower :
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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It is known that some of the fighting platforms built as part of the Great Wall of the Jin Dynasty (1115 A.D. - 1234 A.D.) were some twenty meters wide and were quiet effective in defense. Previously enemies had been quite difficult to shoot at once they had managed to come in close underneath the wall. Thus alive and well, they could start to demolish and undermine the wall. The fighting platform was a new invention which dealt with this problem very effectively. That is, instead of receiving fire from just one general direction, that being the wall above, by making use of fighting platforms which extended from the wall itself, attacking enemies were now exposed to the defense in 3 directions at the same time. This made the defensive position much stronger and required less personnel for a successful and prolonged defense. Having thus proven their military value, after the Jin period the fighting platforms kept occurring as a main feature of walls built.
Careful observers will find that from then on forward fighting platforms became a regular feature of Chinese defensive works. Such platforms frequently appear as parts the elegant but also efficient designs of watch towers, gate towers, city walls and other defensive bastions.
Fighting Platforms were dispersed along the Great Wall of China according to terrain, that is; more platforms were built along flat terrain where the enemy could easiest approach the Wall. The steeper the terrain, the fewer the fighting platforms. The highest sections of the Great Wall often have no fighting platforms at all and instead rely on closely interfaced watchtowers and the wall itself for defense.
Today's visitors to the Great Wall will find many of them at the restored sites in the Eastern Provinces and at Gate Cities. In other places fighting platforms have often crumpled. Many clear ruins remain to be explored however, and visitors can still make them out, their size shape and ruins of structures above on the platform clearly differing from adjacent parts of the same wall.
One of the Iconic Images: Richard Nixon in 1972 overviewing the Great Wall at Badaling admiring the Wall and its countless towers. Millions have followed since.
Along the Great Wall of today most watchtowers have crumpled and the inner spaces have been filled with ruin. At the moment the only section of the Great Wall where one can view the intended interior of a hollow watchtower is at the restored Mutianyu Great Wall, north-west of Beijing. Here, the wall has been restored to act as a museum and special attention has been payed to clear out and restore the interior spaces of the hollow watchtowers.
Upon visiting one may notice the surprising amount of space, even though on the outside and up close the Towers do not seem to be that formidable. Standing on the Wall Platform the largest part of the towers remains out of view.
The hardened hollow watchtowers of the Ming Dynasty Era seen today are said to have been designed by one General Qi Jiguang at sometime in the middle of the 16Th Century. Records reveal that Qi Jiguang was
Interior space of a watchtower of the Mutianyu Section. This is only a part of the front space.
assigned a post at the Great Wall defenses and thus dispatched to the Great Wall at a place known as Jizhou Town. Once there, he observed the soldiers standing guard unprotected from the rain, summer sun or winter snow. In the
same manner, the grain storage and other supplies were badly managed and exposed to ruin. Thus the General worried about battle readyness. Carefully turning the problem over in his mind, he came up with an ingenious solution.
The solution was simple and easy to understand and the hollow watchtower evolved from it. Where earlier the watchtower or the bare wall were merely a place to stand guard and look out, now the watchtower would be a house for the soldiers, a barracks with all things needed plus the observation platform on top. With the three soldiering basics safely stored inside,
A flank view of a square watchtower of the Qi Jiguang Type and a view along the Great Wall at Mutianyu, Beijing City Province.
the station would always be ready for battle. In peacetime however, which was most of the time, the soldiers finally had a decent living of sorts.
Due to the success of this method, it was repeated endlessly in the following years and now forms one of the main presentations of the Great Wall of China as the world knows it. In total some 1000 kilometers of the Great Wall, set between Shanhai Pass in the East and the Mutianyu Great Wall near Beijing are lined with the watchtowers as designed by Qi Jiguang, representing his particular place of oversight, the Ming Dynasty Era Prefecture of Jizhou. Others sections of the Great Wall, all parts West of Mutianyu have watchtowers, many using the same system, however not necessarily built according to the square Qi Jiguang design.
Along the Great Wall of China in the counties of Hebei Province as well as in Beijing City Province there are several unusual watch towers to be found, some of these are merely large towers intended as storage facility and magazine however others are truly of a unique and singular design.
Among the most unusual watchtowers are in random order;
- The ruins of the Qinhuangdao Ridge Mouth Tower, which is a super-sized watchtower now reduced to
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.
For many the most interesting structure found along the Great Wall are the watchtowers. These are specifically known as hollow watchtowers, as they usually have a spacious interior.
The watchtower strung along the wall, appearing lofty and aloof on the mountain ridges act as fortified "pillboxes".
The hollow watchtowers were structures are either two- or three storey buildings built in a square shape and made of a hard brick. The tops were lined with battlement walls with peep-breaches and embrasures as was the wall itself. Inside the towers were separate rooms which had their own assigned functions.
The first and second story were used as living spaces for the stationed soldiers, and/or were in use as weapons- or grain storage room. In this way, the occupants had all that they needed at hand, and when necessary could lock themselves in and survive for a short period of time without any outside help.