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Ancient Wonder, Modern Challenge(Great Wall Of China)<2>


Eventually developing into a tortuous system of border defenses, including loops and spurs, and measuring some 6,700 kilometers by the time of its abandonment in 1644, the ruins of the Ming Dynasty Great Wall are architecturally varied and collectively constitute the world's largest cultural relic in sheet building-material volume. Early travelers to the region attempted to relate the scale of the wall to those back home. British audiences of the late 1790s were told in An Authentic Account of an Embassy From the King of Great Britain to the Emperor of China that "the amount of stone in the wall was equivalent to all the dwelling houses of England and Scotland." If dismantled and reconstructed at the equator, readers were told, there would be enough material to build a smaller wall that could circle the globe twice. Adam Warwick, in a 1923 edition of National Geographic, showed his American readership on a map "where the wall would run if transferred to the United States," while L. Newton Hayes, a missionary's son living in Tianjin, speculated in human eye from Mars." Hardly a book, magazine, documentary, or travel feature since has not included the trivial—and outright fiction—that the structure is visible from the Moon.

Architecturally, the Ming Wall contains a number of structural elements, linked physically or lying in relatively close proximity to the wall. In desert areas the wall was made of rammed earth; only in mountain regions was it made of quarried stone and brick. Aside from the wall itself, the most common architectural elements are beacon towers, used for signaling, storage, shelter, and withstanding siege in the event of attack. Most towers were square or rectangular in plan, a few circular or ovoid. The more important towers had large central chambers to accommodate section commanders, while less important ones were simple networks of interlocking arched corridors. Most towers were two-story structures with flat roofs, but a few had apex-roofs, as evidenced by occasional room walls and roof tiles. More elaborate roofs had ridge ends and roof guardians, and rare field evidence shows that some roofed structures even had decorative tile ends bearing monster faces. Many towers contained engraved tablets recording visits of military officials and other visiting dignitaries. Along the wall, many gates were built to accommodate the passage of people and water, and grand fortresses were constructed at the most vulnerable locations. The best examples of these are the terminal fortresses of Jiayuguan, at the western end of the Ming Wall, and Shanhaiguan, at the eastern end of the wall's main line. Jiayuguan is located on the desert escarpment between two mountain ranges, while Shanhaiguan occupies the narrow band of coastal plain between the Yellow Sea and mountains.

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