This Wall Was Built 2,000 Years Ago To Keep Out Rampaging Hordes -- I Visited It And The Tombs Of Its Builders

I’m a fan of the HBO show
Game of Thrones.
The show is set in the medieval-looking kingdom of Westeros.

In the frozen north beyond Westeros, there are hordes of barbarians called “wildlings.”

To keep invading hordes out, ancient Westori built a giant wall spanning the country.

The concept is pretty fanciful.

Except it’s based on reality.

More than 2,000 years ago, a man named Qin Shi Huang conquered several neighbouring nations in what’s now known as Asia.

To protect his new empire from the aggressive Xiongnu in the north, Qin Shi Huang decided to connect several ancient fortresses into a single gigantic wall.

Sixteen centuries later, Qin Shi Huang’s wall still stood, having been rebuilt and buttressed over the years.

But the country he’d unified, now under new rulers was under siege. Again and again, huge masses of nomad warriors on horseback were riding down from the north and sacking cities.

The rulers of the land decided to re-build the Wall. They built 25,000 watch towers along it. They stretched its length to 13,000 miles.

These wall-builders were the Emperors of the Ming dynasty. There wall was what we now know of as the Great Wall of China.

Good morning! The sun was up outside my room at the Kerry Hotel in Beijing.

That meant it was time to head downstairs to meet my tour.

After a short wait, they arrived.

My chariot for the day was a Mercedes van.

I took a seat in the way back. Our first stop was the tombs of the Ming dynasty. Then the Great Wall

The drive to the Ming tombs took 45 minutes. I looked out the window at Beijing

Occasionally, I saw buildings with allusions to older Chinese architecture…

…but mostly, everything looked new, tall, and shiny.

It could have been Dallas or Charlotte out my window.

The guide said we were lucky there was so little traffic on the road. He said during holiday weekends, the trip can take hours as the highways turn into 'parking lots.'

The guide pointed out the windows to my left. He said the hill formation in the distance is called 'Crouching Tiger.'

The hills on my right are 'Hidden Dragon.' Now you know why the movie has that title.

The Tiger and the Dragon guard this place -- the mausoleum of Ming emperor Chengzu

Past the front gates, we saw this structure. Supposedly, when you burn something inside of it, it goes to heaven. 'Like 3D printing' says our guide.

Inside, everything is made of wood from the south of China.

There's no direct translation for its type. A rough one is 'iron wood.'

Something incredible about the structure is that it is built without nails

The ceilings are very high and the space is vast and impressive.

This is the great Emperor Chengzu, born in 1360.

He nabbed the throne from his teenage nephew. He's also famous for fighting Mongols and sending ships far overseas.

Read up, if you like.

During Chengzu's reign, there was a lot of Chinese scholarship.

One particularly notable brainiac was Yao Guangxio.

He made this, the first version of Wikipedia.

This is a replica of one of the ships Chengzu sent overseas.

The ship is more than 400 feet long. Read the plaque for more info.

The sailors used an early version of Google Maps to go as far as Africa

Back outside, it's time to see the actual mausoleum. It's that structure beyond the gate.

Inside, everything is made of stone. Wood structures are for the living.

This marking says where this stone was dug up and cut. It's ancient quality control

We climbed to the top. In ancient times, no one but royalty was allowed to come over those hills and approach this place.

Behind the structure, there is a huge hill. Under the hill, Chengzu is buried inside a palace.

As we leave, I learn that reason for steps in doorways. It's to keep bad spirits out.

Before we leave the tombs, we stop for a bathroom break. Phew. This one has 4 stars.

We got back on the rode. Out the window, the hills grew taller.

We aren't stopping yet, but this was my first sighting of the Great Wall!

There it is again!

We drove past a military base. These are barracks.

We arrived. Sort of. First we had to walk past restaurants and stores.

Including, of course, a Subway

Whoa. Soldiers. Intimidating.

Then, suddenly, over a gift shop, I saw it…

The Great Wall of China!

We approached a gate. The Wall in the distance is the same wall. They built it zig zag to create the illusion of more walls in order to bum out potential invaders.

It's surreal seeing such a famous structure in person for the first time.

We climbed up on it.

Everybody started taking pictures.

My tour guide took one of my travelling companions, two engineers from Qualcomm.

Then he took one of me. Hi!

The guide gave us an hour to explore on our own. (I wasn't tempted to disobey this sign.)

The wall was built wide enough for five men on horses side-by-side.

At the first gatehouse, I notice some very non-Western graffiti. I wonder how old it is.

Some of the structures are on the wall are tight quarters.

The most surprising thing about the wall is how steep it is.

Here's a photo looking the other way.

Notice how blue the sky is? Apparently that's rare, even this far out of the city.

Most of the tourists here are Chinese.

We were all being watched.

Apparently this was a less crowded than normal day. 'It's too cold out,' said my guide.

I decided to climb to one last gate.

There was a hand railing, but it wasn't very useful. It was below my knees.

The Chinese aren't afraid to push and shove in crowds, but everyone was careful on the steep incline.

Wow. Look at it stretch into the distance.

If I had time, I would have ridden this sliding car ride. Looked fun.

This guy reminded me of people at the Grand Canyon

One last look. All told, the Wall stretches almost 4,000 miles.

I took a moment to Facetime with my wife. (This used a TON of data, but it was worth it.)

The walk back wouldn't be easy for those afraid of heights.

Back on the ground, I looked at the Wall for what could easily be the last time ever. Always a weird feeling.

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