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Great Wall of China

Emperor Shi Huangdi oversees the building of the Great Wall. The Qin dynasty, under its leader Shi Huangdi, took control of China in 221 BC. Despite Shi Huangdi’s power and his army, his new empire was under constant threat from tribes such as the Xiongnu (probably the ancestors of the Huns), nomads who lived to the north of China. These fierce horsemen did not live in one place but moved around, raiding and plundering towns and villages, taking whatever they wanted and killing the inhabitants. In 214 BC Shi Huangdi decided to build a massive wall across China’s northern border to keep the invaders out. The section of wall built during his rule stretched for 2400 kilometres (1500 miles). It ran from the Yellow Sea in the east to the deserts of Central Asia in the west.


The Great Wall of China as it is today
A map of the Great Wall of the Qin dynasty

After Shi Huangdi

Shi Huangdi died suddenly in 210 BC and the Qin dynasty was replaced by a new dynasty, the Han, in 206. Work on the Great Wall went on for centuries after the death of the emperor who had started it. Most of the original wall (actually several walls joined together) has worn away over the centuries, with very few sections surviving. Much of the wall we see today was built between the 14th and the 16th centuries AD, during the Ming dynasty, with some sections restored recently. 
By the time the wall had been rebuilt and added to, it was now 6000 kilometres (3700 miles) long—more than two-thirds the distance across the United States. It is 10 metres (33 feet) high. It remains the largest structure ever built by people.
The western part of the Great Wall in Ningxia province. Erosion has caused much of it to crumble away.

Western Great Wall

Recent excavations have revealed that the Great Wall stretches far farther than previously thought: it is around 20,000 km (12,500 miles). This consists of actual wall, trenches and natural barriers such as hills and rivers.

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