Building the Dragon: The Monumental Task of Constructing the Great Wall of China

by Megan
July 3, 2023
A symbol of ingenuity, will, and endurance, the Great Wall of China stands as one of humanity's most awe-inspiring architectural achievements. Let's trace the fascinating history of this grand structure, exploring how it came into existence and the colossal efforts that went into its construction.

Stretching over 13,000 miles and weaving through deserts, mountains, and grasslands, the Great Wall is not just a single wall, but rather a network of walls and fortifications. Its construction began in the 7th century BC, during the Warring States period, when several small walls were erected by individual states for protection against nomadic invaders from the north.

However, the wall as we know it today came into existence under the rule of Emperor Qin Shi Huang, who unified China in 221 BC and embarked on an ambitious project to connect and fortify the existing walls. This colossal construction feat, undertaken primarily by soldiers, peasants, and prisoners, laid the foundation for the Great Wall.

The construction of the Great Wall was a monumental task, requiring immense human resources and the development of sophisticated construction techniques. The workers used local materials—mainly earth and stones—in the early stages. The wall, at this point, consisted of rammed earth sandwiched between wooden frames.

Under the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), the Great Wall underwent significant enhancements to counter the threat of the Mongols. Ming Emperors replaced the earth walls with bricks and stones and added watchtowers, barracks, and signaling facilities, turning the wall into a comprehensive defense system.

The workers baked millions of bricks in kilns built near the construction sites. The bricks, inscribed with the name of the kiln and the date of production, were then carried by men, donkeys, mules, and even on the backs of sheep, often over rugged, treacherous terrain. Mortar made from slaked lime and glutinous rice was used to bind the bricks. This combination proved so resilient that much of the Ming wall stands to this day.

The construction of the Great Wall came at a great human cost. It is estimated that hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of workers died during the centuries-long construction process. These workers were often buried in the wall, earning it the grim nickname, "the longest cemetery on Earth."

Despite its grandeur and historical significance, the Great Wall was not a wholly effective defense structure. Invaders occasionally breached it, either by force or by bribing the guards. However, the Wall had other uses—it acted as a transportation corridor, enhanced trade, and helped in regulating immigration and emigration.

Today, the Great Wall stands as a symbol of China's rich history and tenacity. Its construction is a testament to human will and endurance in the face of monumental challenges, and it continues to captivate visitors from around the world with its imposing beauty and fascinating history.