Great Wall of China Cultural Landscape
The “Great Wall” refers to a series of defensive barriers erected between the fifth century B.C. and the mid-seventeenth century to deter invaders from the north. The Ming Dynasty wall, built in stages between 1369 and 1644, was the last, longest, and grandest of them all. The major phase of construction occurred during the reign of the Wanli Emperor, who governed from 1572 to 1620. By the time of its completion, the Great Wall stretched some 6,300 kilometers across.
These military structures, collectively referred to as a single wall, originally designed to keep out intruders, now attracts millions of international visitors annually. Tourists have been particularly drawn to the section at Badaling, 70 kilometers from Beijing, where the wall sinks and rises dramatically in the jagged, rugged terrain. For years, stones for the Great Wall were quarried from the mountains in this area where, in addition to the picturesque wall, remnants of ancient workers’ villages still pepper the surroundings. These historic structures were all in danger of being lost or damaged due to the development pressures caused by tourism.
How We Helped
Although the Great Wall has been a tourist destination for centuries, in the late twentieth century increased international travel created new management challenges. By the year 2000, a third of the wall had been eroded due to natural and man-made causes, including vandalism. World Monuments Fund placed the Great Wall of China Cultural Landscape on its 2002 Watch in an attempt to convince Chinese authorizes to commit more resources to protect it. In conjunction with the International Friends of the Great Wall, the Beijing Bureau for Cultural Relics, and UNESCO’s Beijing office, WMF worked to raise awareness and garner media attention for the plight of the wall emphasize its fragility despite standing for centuries. As a result of the interest within and outside of China, Beijing officials adopted the first cultural heritage laws to protect the Badaling section of the wall, forbidding land to be sold for development. WMF Watch-listed the Great Wall again in 2004 to encourage a more comprehensive conservation effort.
Why It Matters
The dramatic stone barrier that hugs the rugged mountains in northern China is the most widely known section of the “Great Wall” of China, but is in fact only one small piece of a vast network of ancient structures that stretch across what is now roughly the edge of Inner Mongolia. Often conceived of in a collective term, the “Great Wall” is considered to be the largest single cultural relic. Its immense scale has given rise to the popular, though completely false, piece of trivia that the wall is visible from the moon. The former defensive structure is as architecturally diverse as it is long: the sections that cut through the desert were made of rammed earth and those that navigate the mountains were built from quarried stone and baked brick. Beacon towers of various shapes, which were used for storage and communication, appear periodically along its course; some even contain tablets with information documenting the visits of military officials and other events. The historical value of the Great Wall and its surroundings cannot be overstated; as a whole, the environment of northern China amounts to a valuable cultural landscape of architectural, archaeological, and natural components that must be preserved for future generations.