One of the sights we had been anticipating on our adventure has been the Great Walls of China. I say walls plural, because there have been about a dozen “great walls” built, the first around 500BC. We started to see the first evidence of one of the walls as we crossed the Taklamakan Desert and entered the Gobi desert. It was a lone sentinel standing up above the desert the first evidence of this amazing defense system that the Chinese had erected over a period of 1500 hundred years.
It is interesting to note that all the walls are oriented west to east aimed at deterring the “nomad hordes” from the north. This first sign we saw was constructed of compacted clay and appeared to be the watch tower of one of the forts that were dotted along the great walls. It stands about 60 feet high, a few more kilometers on more evidence ,more towers and then continuous sections of the wall. It is not until you get close that one can fully appreciate the size of the wall and the enormous construction task to build these massive structures.
We spend some time studying the walls in a museum situated at Jiuyuguan the point where the silk road first passes through the wall.
The statistics are almost incomprehensible 25,000kms of walls were constructed, there were always a million warriors on stand by on the walls, keeping guard and ready to repel the initial attacks. Warnings of attacks could be transmitted over many hundreds of kilometers in minutes using fires lighted in the towers that make up sections of the walls. These signals called for reinforcements to the area that was under attack.
Today as we left Shandan the wall was running parallel with the road for many kilometers, to the north in times past “the hordes”, where we were riding “China”. I had little difficulty admiring the tenacity of the ancient Chinese rulers in building and maintaining these defensive systems. They really only showed their limitations when the brilliant and determined Genghis Khan attacked around the flanks of the walls and exposed their ultimate weakness in much the same way as the French Maginot line was exposed in the First World war but regardless as a feat of construction they are unparalleled in the whole of human history.