Tuesday, November 12th 2019

The REAL Great Wall of China

John ManThe Great Wall: China’s Great Wall north of Beijing is one of the world’s most famous sights. Millions every year climb the line of stone snaking over mountains. We all feel we know the Wall. But we are wrong. It is too big, too varied, too complex to be captured by a few images or a day-trip.

Myths surround it. Many believe that the stone barrier marches across all China, that it has been in existence for over 2,000 years, and that it is the only man-made structure visible from the Moon. In fact, most of it is made of earth, and much of it is not there at all. It cannot even be seen from earth orbit, let alone the Moon. Estimates of its length vary from 1,500 to 5,000 miles. Even its name is deceptive – it is not an it, a single entity, but many walls (hence the uncertain length), built at different times.


The Great Wall of China is one of the most famous sights in China and in the world. It is also probably the longest and the biggest man made structure of the world. Most of the people have seen pictures of it. Probably many have visited it.

The Great Wall - Mutianyu area

The Great Wall – Mutianyu area

Before i came here i always pictured it as an image from a film or at least a poscard. Like most of the people I saw it totally Disney-Land-like. But the reality is sooo different.

You can see pictures of the well maintained part called Mutianyu in my previous post.

Postcard view of the Great Wall

Postcard view of the Great Wall

Here i will show you the pictures few people have seen. Few people have visited The REAL Great Wall of China. Even a German girl I met in Beijing who had been living in Beijing for about 10 years and had been to Mutianyu several times was surprised to see the pictures I had taken.

If you walk a couple of kilometers away from the main area close to the chairlift you will be able to see how the wall looks without “make-up”.

The Great Wall - Mutianyu area

After a while the wall becomes deserted and you don’t meet so many tourists. Some more walking and climbing up steep stairs and the wall becomes dilapidated with trees and bushes in the middle.

Bushes growing on the Great Wall

Bushes growing on the Great Wall

It is not only in Mutianyu, but in other famous areas like Badaling or Simatai you can see the Wall dilapidated so much. Can you imagine how much work and resources it would require to keep the wall in good shape. Of course, it makes no sense to waste money on maintaining the structure basically not used by people. I am not talking about the welcome-all-the-tourists-buy-a-souvenier parts of the wall.

Towers fallen apart on the Great Wall

Towers fallen apart on the Great Wall

Towers with missing walls and roofs. Some parts were completely without merlons and many tourists woule probably consider it dangerous even to walk here ;-)

The wall without merlons

The wall without merlons

In some places the wall is hidden behind lush vegetation. Heaps of bricks and stones on both sides of the wall.

The Great Wall fallen apart

The path between the trees is narrow. People just don’t come here at all. I personally  have met only two people during my exploration – an old Chinese man and a Caucasian tourist.

One of two persons I met

One of two persons I met – a Chinese man

Trees growing in the middle of the Great Wall of China

Trees growing in the middle of the Great Wall of China

Some tourist agencies offer hiking tours along the wall. I was looking at the wall winding up the hill and imagined how cool it must be to walk the whole day without meeting people. Then spend a night under the sky full of starts. And start a day watching a sunrise from the the Great Wall of China. I bet coffee will taste like never before.

Mutianyu _Real_Great_Wall_China

The difference from the well maintained parts is striking. After this the touristic parts seem to be fake. I was told that many sights like temples or monasteries were demolished during the cultural reolution. But after China has been opened to the world people here realized that you can earn money on tourists. So many sights have been rebuilt. And today they are sold to tourists like real old ones.

Trees growing in towers of the Great Wall

Trees growing in towers of the Great Wall

I guess in 100 years the biggest part of the Wall will disappear and the nature will swallow its remnants. Unless Chinese people will need or have to rebuilt the wall again.

More dilapidated towers on the great wall
More dilapidated towers

 Having enjoyed the decay of once grand wall it was time for me to return. Going back was easier as it was mostly downhill. The wall was curling over hills into the distance surrounded by green-yellow-orange woods. The views were amazing.

Mutianyu birds' view
Mutianyu birds’ view

 We were very lucky with the weather – warm & sunny, blue sky and colourful woodlands around. If you plan to visit the wall definitely go there in October.

Back to Disney Land reality of the Wall

Back to Disney Land reality of the Wall

This was a great day of exploration. I am happy I have seen the real face of the famous wall still hidden from many people. And if every true Chinese has to visit the wall at least once within one’s lifetime, I have definitely become much closer to be a true Chinese. If I ever return to the Great Wall I will make a hike along the wall for several days.

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13 Comments on “The REAL Great Wall of China”

  1. […] presents The REAL Great Wall of China posted at Travel photo report, saying, “Here i will show you the pictures few people have […]

  2. Hi,

    Fascinating post. I love all the photos. I had not thought about what a momentous task maintaining the Great Wall of China would be!

    Thanks for submitting this post to the Traveler’s Show & Tell over at Mental Mosaic: Even Home is a Travel Destination. I hope to see you there again. :)

    I hope you check out the other posts and will leave comments on their blogs, too.


  3. The Great Wall Is some 4,000Km long (well something like that) To keep a few Km in good shape is very expensive. Lets praise The Chinese For keeping those few kms, in good shape so everyone can enjoy it. And it is NOT “Disney Wall” it is the REAL wall, though not ALL the WALL. How many structures in the West, of that Age, are so well kept? Look at the Egyptian Pyramids? and its only three small lumps to compare. Lets be positive.

    1. It’s true, it’s a great structure and all do respect for the dimensions and the age of the Wall however setting up a toboggan to slide you down from the wall and cable gondolas to bring you up …makes it feel like a bit of an entertaining park….
      But there is something for everybody and if one wants to avoid this and hike …very well possible, and if one wants to take the lift up..also possible :)

      1. Exactly, Nina. Everyone can choose according to one’s own taste. I just prefer less visited, and less prepared for tourist places. This way they are closer to the reality rather than a souvenir shop.

    2. Hey Jack, I am positive, i did not say that Disney land is bad. I live in one of the European Disney lands. A lot of people have a lot of fun in D..lands. And great the Chinese people maintain the wall. i saw some places with only heaps of bricks in bushes. My point was that many people do not go further than the “polished” part with shops and toboggan, and they just don’t have the full picture. But it a matter of choice.

  4. Great post. Thank you. enjoy reading your blog!

    1. Thank you, Ariana! Stay tuned, we are starting our 1-year trip soon.

  5. Interesting texts and cool pics.

    1. Thank you, Aletta!

  6. Wow Excellent blog!

    1. Thank you, Jake.

  7. Well done ! You are so brave and adventurous! These are great pictures of the Great Wall! Which reminds me… I should go through my India pictures and post some. Having read this I thought it was rather informative. I appreciate you finding the time and energy to put this article together.

    I once again find myself personally spending a significant amount of time both reading and leaving comments. But so what, it was still worth it! In return, I also found a great blog of Great Wall travel tips, I’d love to share it here with you and for future travelers. http://www.wildgreatwall.com/which-part-of-the-great-wall-is-the-best-to-visit/

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