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Ancient Wonder, Modern Challenge(Great Wall Of China)<1>


In the early 1580s, an illustrated manuscript was delivered to the Antwerp atelier of renowned cartographer Abraham Ortelius. According to the manuscript's purveyor, Arius Montanus, a Benedictine monk and one of the cartographer's most trusted informants, the document had come from Luiz Jorge de Barbuda, a brother in the Society of Jesus and a prominent Portuguese geographer. On a chart, Barbuda had summarized various discoveries and observations made by Jesuit missionaries in the Far East since the establishment of Portugal's colony at Macao in 1550. Ortelius included a copy of the chart-the first map of China ever published in the Western world-in his 1584 edition of Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (Theatre of the Whole World). Perhaps more important, the illustration provided the West with its first glimpse at what was destined to become one of the world's most famous monuments-the Great Wall of China. Alongside the rendering of the Great Wall was a brief inscription: Murus quadringentarorum leacarum, inter montium crepidines a rege Chine contra Tartarorum ab hac parte eruptiones, extructus (A wall of 400 leagues, between the banks of the hills, built by the King of China against the breaking in of the Tartars on this side).

With a purported length of approximately 1,200 English miles, some regarded the Great Wall depicted on Ortelius' map as the grotesque sea monsters guarding the deep. Nevertheless, the Great Wall would become a standard cartographic element, appearing on numerous maps, including one published in 1590 by Venetian Giacomo Gastaldi, which illustrated the route taken by Sir Francis Drake during his 1577 circumnavigation. For the cartographic community, the Great Wall of China was neither building nor landmark, but an integral part of Earth's geography.

Built during the Ming dynasty (A.D. 1368-1644), the Great Wall of China depicted on the maps was the last in a succession of defensive walls raised to protect the country's northern frontier from nomadic attack. At least 16 Great Walls were built between the fifth century B.C. and the sixteenth century A.D.; collectively, they stretched an estimated 50,000 kilometers across the Chinese landscape, most of them taking different routes from their predecessors. Five of the walls were known as wan li chang cheng (walls of boundless length) due to their enormous scale. Of these, the Qin Dynasty (221-207 B.C.) Wall is the oldest; the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-A.D.220) Wall, which runs some 7,200 kilometers, the longest. The Liao and Jin Great Walls, built during the earth and twelfth centuries, were, ironically, the work of the very invaders China's emperors worked so hard to keep out. The Ming Wall, built in large part during the reign of Wanli (A.D.1572-1620), is the youngest of the walls, the most militarily sophisticated and grand, and by far the best preserved.

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