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The Great Wall of China

Thursday, December 18, 2008
The Great Wall of China is one of the world's great wonders and was added to the Unesco World Heritage list in 1987. It winds like a giant dragon east to west for 6700 kilometres through deserts, grasslands, mountains and plateaux. It follows an arc that roughly delineates the southern edge of Inner Mongolia.

Known to locals as Chángchéng (long wall), it has a history spanning more than 2000 years. Some sections are now in ruins or even totally gone, but it remains appealing due to its architectural grandeur and historical significance.

The wall originated in the Qin, Han and Ming dynasties, built in the Spring, Autumn and Warring States periods as defensive fortification by the three states of Yan, Zhao and Qin.

The Great Wall underwent constant extensions and repairs in later dynasties, and what began as separate independent walls for various states, did not become the Great Wall until the Qin dynasty. Emperor Qin Shihuang succeeded in having the walls joined to fend off invasions by the Huns.

Construction materials came from local resources and a great army of soldiers, prisoners and local people were assembled to create the stone and earthen fortifications. It is thought two to three million people died as part of the centuries-long project, and at its peak, the Ming Wall was guarded by more than a million men. During the Ming dynasty, bricks were used along with tiles, lime and stone. Previously, earth, stones and wood were used.

The wall's base averaged six-and-a-half metres wide and stood between seven and eight metres high. It was dotted with signal towers used for military communications by way of fire, smoke signals or clappers. Soldiers lived in the lower levels of the towers while defending the boundary.

At Mutianyu in Huairou Country, 60 kilometres north-east of Beijing, the wall crosses the mountain ridges connecting Juyong Pass to the west, and Gubeikou to the east.

More than 96 percent of Mutianyu is covered by trees and orchards and its section of the wall is most unusual: it is lush and has 22 watchtowers — some are like little Chinese gardens.

Two types of cable cars take you to the top — one for sightseeing, the other for tobogganing. The rides take around 10 minutes to reach the top.

Mutianyu is one of the most commercialised sections of the wall and has hotels, restaurants and souvenir shops. It has been restored with original bricks and is a recreation of what the wall would have looked like in its hey day. It is massive and has a wide stone platform top. It dates from the Ming dynasty and was used as a barricade, communication source and army highway.

Accommodation at Commune by the Great Wall offers quite an experience. The contemporary hotel, situated in more than 800 hectares of walnut trees, was designed by twelve Asian architects and won a special prize at the 2002 la Biennale di Venezia.

It comprises 11 villas with 46 guest rooms and a Commune Club. The Stone Valley has 31 villas with 190 guest rooms, a children's club, Anantara spa, fitness room and conference centre.

The guest library, which features walls covered with peacock feathers, is aptly named the Peacock Room. A sage green sofa is covered with pillows in tamarind, cinnamon and curry shades and there are comfortable, curved and purple velvet chairs. The Pink Bar and Gallery Lounge is also bursting with colour and there are always interesting paintings and sculptures on show.

Accommodation at Commune also has a private strip running through the grounds, accessible only by guests. It is located only 64 kilometres from Beijing with The Great Wall right on its doorstep — some rooms even have wall views.

Location

From Shanhaiguan to Lop Nur in China.

Cost

Wendy Wu Tours has a wide variety of China tours ranging from 10 to 29 days including airfares, all meals, accommodation, visa fee for Australian passport holders and all transport. They start at $2680 per person twin share.

Air China has flights to Beijing.

Fares from:

  • Melbourne $1326
  • Sydney $1343
  • Adelaide $1578
  • Brisbane $1583

Valid for travel until March 31, 2009. Conditions apply.

Prices correct at May 8, 2008

For further information

Commune by The Great Wall
The Great Wall exit at Shuigan
Badaling Highway
Beijing 100022
China
Ph: +86 10 8188 1888
Fax: +86 10 818 1866
www.commune.com.cn
TheGreatWall@Kempinski.com

Air China
21/123 Pitt Street
Sydney 2000
Ph: (02) 9232 7277
Fax: (02) 9232 7645
www.au.fly-airchina.com
sydddca@airchina.com.au

China

It is recommended travellers to China see their doctor at least six weeks before departure as there are specific vaccinations recommended. Other health precautions and preventions may also be recommended. For further information visit www.welltogo.com.au.

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