Why is the Great Wall of China Special?
The Great Wall is by far mankind’s most extensive construction endeavor. It zig-zags up and down steep ridges and is punctuated with imposing watchtowers, making the Great Wall the travel icon of China.
Why the Great Wall of China was built
To serve as lookout posts: The ancient Chinese had rational fears about being invaded by nomadic armies from the north.
To provide the army with a swift early warning system: Fire signals (nighttime) and smoke signals (daytime) were relayed from one watchtower to another. Messages could be rapidly sent over great distances.
To create an elevated military roadway through the rugged terrain
To impede invaders coming from the north
The Great Wall of China watchtowers are fairly close to each other along many stretches of the Great Wall. Some are a stone's throw apart.
The four most popular Great Wall of China sites
Below are the four most visited Great Wall locations. All are near and north of Beijing:
This is by far the most popular Great Wall of China site for travelers, mainly because it is close to Beijing (less than two hours away) and is much easier to climb than the other Great Wall sections. The Badaling section was built around 500 years ago - and was extensively renovated by the present Chinese government over the last several decades. Be mindful that Badaling swarms with tour groups, individual tourists and hawkers - and has become somewhat tacky. This could taint your photographs and memories of an otherwise visually striking Great Wall of China site.
It is an hour farther away from Beijing than Badaling. This is a blessing - the extra travel time means that fewer tour groups will travel to it. This Great Wall of China site is remarkable. The incline of the wall at Mutianyu is noticeably steeper than Badaling's. However, like Badaling, Mutianyu has a cable car for tourists who choose not to walk up the wall.
You must travel yet another hour to reach the Simatai site from Beijing and, therefore, you will encounter even fewer vacationers than at Mutianya. Some of the wall dramatically clings to precipitous mountain ridges. Because the incline is especially steep and there is no cable car, the Great Wall of China site at Simatai is not recommended for those not in good physical conditions.
This is the closest to Beijing. The Shixiaguan section is currently being reconstructed but is open to the public. You can view it from your vehicle as you drive to the Badaling section. Or, you can stop and climb it. However, be aware that the Shixiaguan wall ascends a long, very steep slope.