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									The Great Wall of China and the Ming Tombs                           a2
                                        Day Trip from Beijing to
                                        Ancient Wonder

                                        Visitors to Beijing must drive
                                        north of the city to visit one of
                                        China's greatest treasures--the
                                        Great Wall of China. The Great
                                        Wall is not far from Beijing, after
                                        a 35-75 miles north and west of
                                        Beijing, depending on which part
of the Great Wall is visited. The Great Wall was built over 2 millenia by
successive Chinese dynasties, and is actually a series of barricades,
designed to keep marauders out of China. The wall was started in 221
B.C., and was added to until just 200 years ago. It stretches for
almost 2500 miles from Central Asia to the East China Sea. Although
the Great Wall was built to prevent attacks from the north, the
Manchus managed to invade China in 1644. Although the Great Wall
ultimately failed to prevent invasion, and the modern myth that you
can see the Great Wall from outer space is not true, the wall is still
truly one of the great wonders of the ancient world. I can guarantee
that the Great Wall of China will be the ONE thing that your friends,
family and co-workers will expect you to have visited in China.

There are several places near Beijing with easy access to the wall.
Just an hour drive from Beijing and soon you’ll arrive at the Badaling,
the nearest part of the wall, just about an hour northwest of the
capital. Mutianyu is about 15 miles further out to the northeast of the
city, but is usually less crowded and is more spectacular. The true
adventurer might want to visit the wall at Simaitai. Although the
Simaitai area is mountainous and steep, and the wall is not in perfect
condition anymore as it has already begun to crumble in many places,
it is still quite a site to see.

Our second day in Beijing, we boarded comfortable buses for the ride
to the Great Wall of China. Driving north, we soon left the plateau area
near our hotel and worked our way into the mountains. The early
spring landscape was brown and rocky, and the hour drive to Badaling,
the closest access to the Great Wall from Beijing, was interesting and
went by quickly. Since Badaling is the easiest point to get to the wall,
it is not very peaceful anymore. You have to walk past an endless
number of souvenir shops to get to the Great Wall, and you will soon
meet hundreds of other tourists from all over the world and hear many
different languages while walking on the wall. Badaling is quite a
carnival-like atmosphere, but still fascinating.

Although I knew the Great Wall was large, I don't think I realized just
how wide it was until we actually walked along it. The Great Wall at
Badaling is about 26 feet high and 23 feet wide at its base, large
enough to allow six horsemen to ride along the wall. In mountainous
northern China, the Great Wall served as an elevated highway in
ancient China. We did what most other tourists did--walked along the
top of the Great Wall, snapping photos as we wandered along.
Although very touristic, it was still quite impressive and a memorable
morning.

Ming Tombs

After leaving the Great Wall and enjoying a traditional Chinese lunch,
we drove to visit the nearby Ming Tombs at Shisan Ling. We had
already heard so much about these tombs. They represent the burial
ground for 13 of the 16 Ming dynasty emperors. Soon we were walking
along part of the 7 km (4.5 mile) "Spirit Way", a quiet walkway leading
to the tombs. This road starts with a large archway through the Great
Palace Gate, followed by 12 pairs of stone animals lining the road on
the way to the Ming Tombs. Later on our cruise tour when we visited
the Ming Tombs at Nanjing where the other three Ming emperors are
buried, I was struck with the great similarity between the two burial
areas. At both locations, half of the stone animals are standing and
half are kneeling.

None of the 13 Ming tombs have been excavated yet, except for one.
Ding Ling, the tomb of the 13th Ming emperor Zhu Yijun who died in
1620, was opened to the public in 1959. Zhu Yijun, his primary wife,
and his favorite concubine are all buried at Ding Ling. Although the
tomb had a unique locking mechanism inside the vault that made
opening the tomb almost impossible, ancient grave robbers had found
a way. When the modern archaeologists finally unlocked the tomb,
they found the vaults looted already.

The quiet atmosphere at Shisan Ling was a wonderful contrast with the
masses of tourists at Badaling. It was a nice ending to our day trip
north of Beijing. Our last day in Beijing was reserved for touring the
hutong, the ancient alleyways of Beijing where many traditional
residents still live.
By Linda Garrison, About.com

								
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