Visitors to Beijing must drive north of the city to visit one of China's greatest treasures--the Great Wall of China. The Great Wall is not far from Beijing, about 35-75 miles north and west of Beijing, depending on which part of the Great Wall is visited. The Great Wall was built over 2 millenia by successive Chinese dynasties, and is actually a series of barricades, designed to keep marauders out of China. The wall was started in 221 B.C., and was added to up until the 17th century. It stretches for almost 2500 miles from Central Asia to the East China Sea. Although the Great Wall was built to prevent attacks from the north, the Manchus managed to invade China in 1644. Although the Great Wall ultimately failed to prevent invasion, and the modern myth that you can see the Great Wall from outer space is not true, the wall is still truly one of the great wonders of the ancient world. I can guarantee that the Great Wall of China will be the ONE thing that your friends, family and co-workers will expect you to have visited in China.
There are several places near Beijing with easy access to the wall. Badaling is the nearest part of the wall to Beijing and is about an hour northwest of the capital. Mutianyu is about 15 miles further out to the northeast of the city, but is usually less crowded and is more spectacular. The true adventurer might want to visit the wall at Simaitai. The Simaitai area is mountainous and steep, and the wall is crumbling in many places.
Our second day in Beijing, we boarded comfortable buses for the ride to the Great Wall of China. Driving north, we quickly left the plateau area near our hotel and worked our way into the mountains. The early spring landscape was brown and rocky, and the hour drive to Badaling, the closest access to the Great Wall from Beijing, was interesting and went by quickly. Since Badaling is the easiest point to get to the wall, it is very touristy. You have to walk past an endless number of souvenir shops to get to the Great Wall, and you will meet hundreds of other tourists from all over the world and hear many different languages while walking on the wall. Badaling is quite a carnival-like atmosphere, but still fascinating.
Although I knew the Great Wall was large, I don't think I realized just how wide it was until we actually walked along it. The Great Wall at Badaling is about 26 feet high and 23 feet wide at its base, large enough to allow six horsemen to ride along the wall. In mountainous northern China, the Great Wall served as an elevated highway in ancient China. We did what most other tourists did--walked along the top of the Great Wall, snapping photos as we wandered along. It was really quite impressive and a memorable morning.
After leaving the Great Wall and enjoying a traditional Chinese lunch, we drove to visit the nearby Ming Tombs at Shisan Ling. These tombs represent the burial ground for 13 of the 16 Ming dynasty emperors. We walked along part of the 7 km (4.5 mile) "Spirit Way", a quiet walkway leading to the tombs. This road starts with a large archway through the Great Palace Gate, followed by 12 pairs of stone animals lining the road on the way to the Ming Tombs. Later on our cruise tour when we visited the Ming Tombs at Nanjing where the other three Ming emperors are buried, I was struck with the great similarity between the two burial areas. At both locations, half of the stone animals are standing and half are kneeling.
None of the 13 Ming tombs have been excavated except for one. Ding Ling, the tomb of the 13th Ming emperor Zhu Yijun who died in 1620, was opened to the public in 1959. Zhu Yijun, his primary wife, and his favorite concubine are all buried at Ding Ling. Although the tomb had a unique locking mechanism inside the vault that made opening the tomb almost impossible, ancient grave robbers had found a way. When the modern archaeologists finally unlocked the tomb, they found the vaults looted.
The quiet atmosphere at Shisan Ling was a wonderful contrast with the masses of tourists at Badaling. It was a nice ending to our day trip north of Beijing. Our last day in Beijing was reserved for touring the hutong, the ancient alleyways of Beijing where many traditional residents still live.
Page 1 > > Beijing Overview > >
Page 2 > > Summer Palace > >
Page 3 > > Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City > >
Page 5 > > Beijing Tour of the Hutong > >
The Great Wall of China Pictures
The Ming Tombs Pictures
Page 5 > > Beijing Tour of the Hutong
More on China Cruise tour