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The Great Wall of China: An Historic Marvel

Each year, more than 10 million people from all over the world make their way to see the "Long Wall of 10,000 Miles," or as most of us know it, the Great Wall of China. This marvel of engineering was built through backbreaking physical labor and is more than 2700 years old. It stretches east to west through nine provinces across China's northern regions. Its total length is just over 13,170 miles. Visitors can pick from hundreds of places to visit the wall, from Lop Lake in the far west to Dandong City in the east.

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01 It's one of the new 7 Wonders of the World

After a global campaign in 2007, 600 million people worldwide voted to name the Great Wall of China one of the New 7 Wonders of the World. It tops the list of other man-made phenomena, including the Taj Mahal and Machu Picchu. A worldwide celebration of 7 Wonders Day takes place every July 7th to encourage people to visit the sites and recognize their importance to our heritage.

The Great Wall of China aphotostory / Getty Images

02 It consists of many great walls

Long before the rise of the Mongols, the northern frontier was under constant threat from marauding tribes, and the new empire needed protection from them. Several walls were constructed over the next 2500 years, starting as early as the 7th century BCE. Throughout its existence, the historical structure has been rebuilt and enhanced by more than 20 dynasties. Most of the wall we see today was built during the Ming Dynasty, which ruled China from 1368 to 1644.

Great Wall of China Hung_Chung_Chih / Getty Images

03 4000 miles to explore

While the easiest access sites are near Beijing, there are hundreds of others to choose from. One of the most popular sections is at Badaling, northwest of Beijing. It's not only famous for its scenery and collection of Great Wall artifacts, but its wall sections and 19 watchtowers are among the best-preserved parts of the entire wall. Expect a crowd, especially in the summer.

View of the Great Wall at Badaling - China Leonid Andronov / Getty Images

04 One-third of it has disappeared

If you've dreamed of visiting the Great Wall, it's best to make plans sooner rather than later. According to UNESCO, one-third of its walls are gone, though some predict it to be at least one-half. More of the Great Wall disappears each year. While some sections have been immaculately maintained, other parts have fallen into disrepair, been damaged by vandalism, or pillaged.

Dilapidated China Great Wall raywoo / Getty Images

05 You can camp at Jinshanling

While camping on the wall is prohibited for safety and other obvious reasons, you'll find a camping base for visitors at the foot of the Jinshanling Great Wall. The best times of the year to visit here are the months of April, May, September, and October when the temperatures are moderate, and the scenery is breathtaking. Arrive in mid-April, and you can catch the challenging Great Wall Marathon, a competitive race where runners from around the globe compete through the section's intimidating ascents, descents, and narrow passages.

Jinshanling Great Wall Aaron Geddes Photography / Getty Images

06 Jiankou is the most challenging section

The wildest section of the Great Wall is the unrestored Jiankou section, which sits about 46 miles from Beijing. The walls here have an incline of 90 degrees, and broken walls and towers dot the landscape. Even experienced hikers are encouraged to hire a local guide. One of the most popular hiking routes is from Jiankou to Mutianyu, which takes about four hours.

Jiankou Great Wall Lv Photography / Getty Images

07 Take a midnight hike along the Simatai section

There's only one section of the Great Wall that you can visit at night, but you'll need a flashlight because there's no illumination. Simatai is about 75 miles from downtown Beijing, near Gubei Water Town. Plan your trip so that you arrive before the sun goes down and take a cable car to the top of the wall. As the sun descends below the horizon, the sky lights up the magical vistas below. Darkness falls, and the starry skies, the pristine landscape, and the twinkling lights of Gubei Water Town merge to create an unforgettable view.

Simatai Ancient Great Wall Want to be good / Getty Images

08 Lakeside views and more at Huanghuacheng

The only section of the wall that connects with a lake, the Huanghuacheng Great Wall, has both restored and unrestored areas to explore. Breathtaking views of lush, green countryside surround the vivid blue waters of Haoming Lake below. In the summer, the site is covered with yellow flowers, which earned the town its name. The chestnut garden is a must-see. Ming Dynasty soldiers who guarded the wall planted the garden, and it has thrived for more than 600 years.

Huanghuacheng Great Wall Sino Images / Getty Images

09 It may be the world's longest cemetery

Soldiers, civilians, and convicts built the Great Wall. Workers carried the stones and bricks in bamboo baskets on their shoulders or backs, making its construction a grueling and dangerous job. Leaders sentenced wrongdoers to work on the wall as a form of punishment. Historians believe up to a million people lost their lives during the wall's construction, and to this day, urban legends persist with stories of the bodies buried inside the structures. Visitors have reported seeing apparitions, being grabbed by an invisible entity, or experiencing nausea or uneasiness while exploring sections of the wall.  

The Great Wall of China during sunset zhudifeng / Getty Images

10 The Great Wall is an adventurer's dream

For travelers who have the urge to test their endurance and explore new locales simultaneously, the Great Wall provides a multitude of options. Choose from several hiking routes. The steep steps at Simatai or Shixiaguan are true tests of skill and stamina. Or, if you're a true thrillseeker, try an open-aired toboggan ride down the Mutianyu Great Wall or jump on a zipline and zoom over the lake at Simatai.

A man sitting on the Great Wall in China Christopher Moswitzer / Getty Images
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