Walls of the world
Since ancient times, walls have been built to protect cities, mark borders, as a means to keep enemies out and, in some cases, to keep people in. More recently, they’ve been constructed as memorials, works of art and even places of worship.
Wherever they’re built, walls tend to define as much as they divide, even as they dominate the landscape around them. And be they fortification or marker, control of walls and the territories they mark out have proved contentious not just in terms of geography but also politically.
The Flexicover Team takes a look at some of the most famous walls around the globe. Each of these walls is a popular tourist site and offers an amazing historical experience!
Berlin Wall; Berlin, Germany
After WWII, Germany and its capital were partitioned between the Allies. Despite being deep within Soviet territory, West Berlin stood out as a haven, and during the 1950s, millions of unhappy East Germans defected in the hopes of safe passage to the West. To stop the mass exodus, on the night of the 12th–13th August 1961, barbed wire and concrete posts were installed to cut access to West Berlin and became the first version of the wall. It would go through four major transformations during its 28 year history, the last of which consisted of concrete slabs reaching 3.6m high and 1.2m wide, with features to hinder people from scaling it. The fall of the Berlin Wall on 9th November 1989 was as sudden as its rise, when it was announced that the borders were to be opened. After some hesitation, crowds from both sides began chipping at the Wall with hammers and chisels and huge celebrations were held, paving the way for the subsequent reunification of Germany.
Hadrian's Wall; England/Scotland, UK
Following a major 2 year rebellion in 119CE, Emperor Hadrian ordered the building of a fortification to protect Roman Britain from attacks by the Pictish tribes. This project was without precedence in Europe, far exceeding the size of any previous defences. The wall’s construction began in 122CE, mostly completed in 6 years and stretched 80 Roman miles (73 modern miles) from Wallsend, on the Tyne River, in the east to Bowness, at the head of Solway Firth, in the west. It was built in 5 mile stretches, with seventeen forts holding between 500 and 1,000 troops. Smaller forts called ‘milecastles’ were built every mile to house garrisons of up to 60 men and between these were lookout turrets every third of a mile for its entire length. Although only stretches of this famous wall are still visible today, it’s one of the most popular tourist attractions in England and a national path follows the whole length of the wall.
Western Wall; Jerusalem, Israel
The Western Wall is situated at the heart of Jerusalem’s Old City and in Hebrew it is known as the Kotel (meaning "the wall") or Kotel Hamaaravi ("the Western wall"). About half of the wall was constructed circa 19BCE by King Herod, including the 17 brick rows located below street level, with the remaining layers added from the 7th century onwards. At the Western Wall Plaza, it stands approximately 32m from its foundation, with the exposed section about 19m high. However, this is only a small section, about 57m of its 488m length, with the rest hidden by the buildings. The wall has become a place of pilgrimage for Jews and one common tradition is for visitors to place notes in to the stone cracks – it’s estimated that more than a million prayer notes or wishes are placed in the wall each year.
Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall; Washington, D.C., USA
This national war memorial in the US capital is intended to transcend political controversy in remembrance of soldiers who died or went missing during the Vietnam conflict. The centrepiece is two 76m long triangular, black granite slabs featuring the names of 58,286 servicemen. Set in a V-shape at an angle of 125°, they start at a height of 20cm before gradually rising to meet at their highest point of 3m. Its construction began on 26th March 1982 and was complete by 13th November the same year. However, some veterans opposed the austere design of the memorial, likened to a tombstone or a scar in the earth, so two years later a statue (The Three Servicemen) was erected nearby. In 1993, another sculpture, depicting three women and a wounded soldier, was added to the Vietnam Memorial to honour the women who risked their lives to care for wounded and dying during the Vietnam War.
Great Wall of China
This Great Wall has been built, rebuilt and improved over the centuries. Initially it was a series of fortifications built as early as the 7th century to protect the borders of the Chinese Empire from the attacks of nomadic tribes from the north. Over time these joined up and were made stronger, eventually forming the wonder we know today with the majority of the existing wall built during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644CE). The concrete steps across most of the wall are built of uneven height to slow down night attacks and the main length of the wall is an impressive 3,460 km (2.5 times the distance between Land’s End and John O’Groats). If you include all the branches and spurs, it stretches for a mind-blowing 8,851km! Despite popular belief, this mammoth man-made object cannot be seen from space as at its maximum it’s only 9.1m wide and about the same colour as the soil surrounding it.
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