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ne of the largest construction projects ever undertaken by humanity is collapsing whilst humanity is watching. The Great Wall of China took thousands of years to be completely built and since the start of the 21st century, more and more sections started to collapse due to various reasons. On the 10th of January 2022, a large portion of the wall had collapsed after a 6.9 magnitude earthquake that hit China’s Qinghai Province at a depth of 10 kilometers.

Spaning over 21,196.18 kilometers (13,170.6956 miles), this is one of the largest construction and the longest to be built in history. Its importance is unmeasurable simply based on how much labor went into building these defensive borders around China which served their purpose for centuries throughout different dynasties.

Rise of the Great Wall

The building of the wall started during the 7th century BCE by the ancient Chinese state known as Chu which ruled during 770–223 BCE. When the state was formed, its leaders wanted to build a new type of defensive system that would not only protect a village or a simple settlement but a whole region without the need for a large army. It is believed that this was the first time someone in human history had thought of using walls to create borders. Therefore they started building a large fortified wall around the whole prominence of Hubei, with guard posts every 10 kilometers.

During the 6th century, other states within China soon followed this tactic. They all understood that this would help defend their own regions from their neighbors throwing a surprise attack. Another vital point of building the great wall was to protect China from nomadic tribes that attempted raids and invasions from the north. Until the 2nd century BCE, all the sections of the walls were separate, not connected from one region to another.

Everything changed in 221 BCE when the Qin dynasty formed, thus uniting all the states within ancient China. Due to this, the walls were now connected between regions and future constructions were planned to only focus on building the wall around China. As time passed on the wall became very useful to control immigration within the country as well as protect traders along the Silk Road.

Map representing parts of the Great Wall of China built in different periods (Source: The Australian)

Based on the economy of what dynasty was ruling at the time, the construction took pauses for even a few years at times. When the war was actually used as a defense against other attackers, the destroyed sections would be rebuilt as soon as possible and any damage taken from earthquakes would be amended.

The wall played a very important role during the start of the 13th century when the Mongolian invasion under the reign of Genghis Khan took place. The wall managed to offer good protection from the Mongolians. The Mongol conquest of China proved the importance of border walls for their defensive ability. Mongolia wanted China at any price and their efforts to take over the large territory are what doomed their chances of conquering the world.

Photo of the Yanmen Pass section built during the Ming dynasty (Source: Pixabay)

The construction of the wall stopped somewhere around the 15th century AD when the Ming dynasty ruled China. The end of the medieval era brought also an end to a violent period in human history, making the need for walls a needless from this prospect. The construction of the wall lasted for 2,241 years, making it the longest project in human history.

Continuously Collapsing

Although the earthquake which severely affected a portion of the great wall at the start of this year made quite some ravage on the news, the wall has been collapsing for many years now. UNESCO has been working towards renovating the wall in order to protect at least some of the parts that are in better condition, especially the ones built during the Ming dynasty. Despite good thoughts, the renovation works seem to have been done poorly as they only lasted for a couple of years.

The damaged site (pictured) is adjacent to the historically significant Yanmen Pass in Dai county, north China’s Shanxi province in 2018 (Source: Xinzhou News)

In 2018 heavy rainfall had an iconic section of the landmark collapse and everyone blamed the shoddy renovation works. Despite being listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1987, there have been numerous acts of violation towards the site by tourists as much as locals.

In 2016, a section of the wall in China’s Liaoning Province — once regarded as the wall’s most beautiful section had been paved over with smooth cement, ruining the antique architecture. This is the sort of renovation that had taken place thus far doing more damage than actually fixing or stopping the collapse. Despite being difficult to maintain a structure that stretches over 15 provinces, no one seems to be doing much to slow down the collapse.

Some people actually may not know that the wall is part of the new 7 wonders of the world. Its beauty and the way it sits on the mountaintops of China make it look as if it is part of our planet. In 2012 another heavy rainfall caused 36 meters of the wall to collapse, making it impossible to rebuild due to the heavy damage it had sustained. I can write pages worth of reports about parts of the wall collapsing over the 21st century as well as a good portion of the 20th century.

The truth is that this collapse is pretty much inevitable. The costs to properly renovate the rest of the wall are too big for any organization or even the Chinese government to set as a priority. Society as well does not seem to care that thousands of years’ worth of history are literally collapsing. Most that can be done is to visit the wall whilst it still stands up.

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