Going back to the 14th century this historic landmark is a symbol of Nanjing’s time as the capital of the Ming Dynasty between 1368 and 1421.
Founder of the Ming Dynasty Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang ordered its building to protect Nanjing from invaders.
Purple Mountain, Xuanwu Lake and Qinhuai River provided additional natural defenses as the Wall snaked around them. The curved Wall was unusual, as up until then city walls had been built in straight lines.
Completed in 1386, Nanjing is one of the few cities to retain its original walls. Making the state protected Ming Great Wall a national treasure.
The Ming Great Wall was 35 kilometers long. It was considered to be one of the longest city walls in the world. Today about 25 kilometers are still intact with the following six sections being opened to the public:
- Zhonghua Men (Treasure Gate) to Shen Ce Men Gate (Peace Gate). It is approximately 6 kilometers long.
- Zhong Shan Gate (Zhong Shan Men) to Guanghua East Street (Guang Hua Dong Jie), it is approximately 2 kilometers.
- East Water Gate (Dong Shui Guan) to West Water Gate (Xi Shui Guan), it is approximately 6 kilometers.
- Qing Ling Mountain (Qing Ling Shan) to Defense Garden (Guo Fang Yuan), it is approximately 1 kilometer.
- Ding Huai Gate (Ding Huai Men) to Lion Mountain (Shi Zi Shan), it is approximately 4 kilometers.
- Zhong Fu Road (Zhong Fu Lu) to Zhong Yang Gate (Zhong Yang Men), it is approximately 2 kilometers.
By exploring the sections of the Wall the size of this mammoth structure can be appreciated. The average height of the Ming Great Wall is 12 meters while its average width is 7 meters.
A structure of such magnitude took 21 years to complete using the manpower of 200,000 laborers. Wealthy Yangtze River Valley families had financed construction.
The Ming Great Wall was made up of over 300 million bricks. A mixture of lime, tong oil and glutinous rice paste held the bricks in place. This mixture proved to be a super strong mortar.
A unique feature of the Ming Great Wall is the calligraphy that has been inscribed on its bricks. The marks were a quality seal ensuring that every brick matched exact size specifications.
Over 70 characters are carved onto some of the bricks while others have a single character. The style of the calligraphy is dependent on whether it was an official or an artisan who marked them. The inscriptions illustrate how Chinese characters developed making them a valuable record of Nanjing history.
Originally there had been four different fortifications. There were two walls that circled the Emperor’s palace and the Imperial City. Nanjing had been protected by an inner and outer wall. Today only the inner city wall remains.
The Ming Great Wall originally had 13 gates which were the exits and entrances for Nanjing’s inhabitants. Not all of the gates survived but their names are used to mark local neighbourhoods. Tai Peng Men and Zhong Yang Men were destroyed but the gate names are now used as place names.
Of the remaining gates, Jubao Gate or Treasure Gate as it was known during the Ming period is the best preserved. It provided the south entrance to the Ming Great Wall. Today, it is known as Zhonghua Gate and as the Gate of China.
Zhonghua Gate is a fortress with 27 vaults that were used in the past to store military supplies and as soldier’s accommodation. It had consisted of four gate houses. The building resembles a castle.
Another gate that still stands is Jeifang Gate. This gate has a small museum dedicated to the Wall. It houses photographs, maps and exhibitions.
Walking along the Ming Great Wall of Nanjing evokes a spirit of times gone by.