In pictures: China’s other great wall

Great wall

A road to restoration for China’s other great wall. Source: Shutterstock

WHEN it comes to walls, China has the most famous one in the world. 

But if you look a little further south from where the Great Wall of China runs across the country, you’ll discover another incredible example of ancient engineering.

Constructed 600 years ago from 350 million bricks, the City Wall of Nanjing is the largest circular city wall in the world.

Standing 21 meters high and 14 meters thick, the wall has stood the test of time throughout centuries of battles and invasions.

Sunset over Nanjing, seen from the old city walls. Source: Shutterstock

After the collapse of the Mongol-led Yuan dynasty in 1368, Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang founded the Ming Dynasty and named Nanjing as the capital.

In a quest to protect his sovereignty and keep out invaders, Zhu sought the advice of his advisor Zhu Sheng.

Zhu Sheng, known to be a reclusive but wise man, told him to build a city-encompassing wall.

The wall took 21 years to finish and enlisted more than 200,000 laborers who moved over seven million cubic meters of earth.


Zhongshan Gate in Nanjing. Source: Wikimedia Commons

But according to records, Zhu also ordered 118 counties and 20 states across China to make bricks, each weighing 10 kilograms and measuring around 50 centimeters.

To this day, most of the bricks on the wall still have the names of the officials who were responsible for overseeing the quality of the bricks.

Experts suggest the wall has withstood the test of time because each brick contains a mixture of starch water, in which glutinous rice had been cooked, as well as tung oil, known for its strength in bonding materials.

Cannons still line the City Wall of Nanjing today. Source: Shutterstock

However, despite the enduring materials used in the wall, the 1960s and 1970s brought a bout of neglect for the wall and parts of it began to crumble.

Other parts were knocked down to make way for roads and to facilitate Nanjing’s sprawling economic development.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

90-year-old Nanjing resident Xie Zhiru told BBC Travel that although a lot of wars took place in Nanjing, none managed to ruin the wall.

“When the Japanese invaded, even they couldn’t destroy Nanjing. We [the city’s residents] destroyed this wall ourselves,” she added.

As the wall began to collapse, market sellers used the fallen bricks to build tables and stalls.

“I couldn’t believe people were sitting on 600-year-old bricks,” explained Xie.

A view over Nanjing’s Turtle Lake from the wall. Source: Wikimedia Commons

In 2016, the local government launched the Every Grain to the Granary campaign which requested residents to return any bricks they had taken.

In total, 80,000 bricks were returned and used to restore parts of the wall.

The Xuanwu Gate, one of the gates of the city wall. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Great Wall of China is also facing a massive restoration project after years of overtourism has taken its toll.

But unlike Nanjing’s Every Grain to the Granary campaign, authorities at the stretches of the Great Wall which need repair have been reckless.

In 2016, it was revealed a 700-year-old “wild” stretch of the Great Wall had been covered in cement under orders from Suizhong county’s Cultural Relics Bureau.

This caused an outcry from historians, locals, and netizens.

Since then, however, greater care has been taken to restore the wall to its original glory.