I recently explored one of the oldest Buddhist temples in Nanjing, and my adventure led me right to the ticket office of the ancient city wall. A wanderer can’t resist a temptation like that, so I paid 30 RMB for a ticket and went for it. (If you want to start with my blog post about the Jiming Temple, click here.)
Since I had no idea the city wall was connected to Jiming Temple, I didn’t do any prior research and wasn’t sure about the history of the wall, but I did some investigating afterwards and I’m really excited by what I found!
The Nanjing city wall is among the largest ever constructed – it was actually the longest wall in the world when it was built – and it’s in great condition now. The city inside was also the world’s largest up until the 1600s.
The wall was designed by Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang, the founder of the Ming Dynasty, about 600 years ago. When he began this new dynasty in China, he declared Nanjing as the capital. What do you do when you establish a new capital city? You build it up and protect it from invaders, of course. Chinese history is full of these kinds of stories – someone takes power, declares the dawn of a new age, and pours tons of money into protecting their power until they’re eventually overthrown.
According to Wikipedia, the wall took 21 years to complete and used 200,000 laborers. According to the sign posted in the city wall exhibition hall in Nanjing, construction took place from the beginning of 1366 up until the end of 1393 (28 years) and involved millions of people from all over the country. No matter who’s right, the part of the wall I visited was built in the 1300s, destroyed to varying degrees from different invasions, restored several times, and then brought to the point of full restoration in 2014.
I’m quickly realizing that the most visually appealing part of any ancient wall is its massive gates. When the wall was built, there were 13 original gates, and 2 of them still stand today. There are definitely more than 2 gates in Nanjing, so I’m guessing they’re not part of the original 13.
After they built this wall, Nanjing became extraordinarily difficult to invade. You’ve got this massive stone deterrent with weapons and guard towers, the Yangtze River serving as a moat, and this big old mountain giving the eyes of the city incredible visibility.
Did you know that construction of The Great Wall involved sticky rice? If you didn’t, you should go read my latest blog post, which is full of crazy facts about China. The reason I’m bringing this up is because the Nanjing city wall incorporated sticky rice in the same way! The mortar used on the city wall is made from mixed lime, glutinous rice, and tree nut oil – a mixture that’s credited with helping the wall to remain standing.
My favorite part of any tourist attraction are those tiny details that you don’t notice until you put down your camera and take a closer look. As I walked along over a part I had just walked across, I started to see bricks with Chinese characters on them.
I headed down to the exhibition hall and discovered a glass case of similar bricks.
Turns out the bricks in the case are ones with inscriptions from the Ming Dynasty, and originally they were incorporated into the Nanjing city wall. The collection of Ming Dynasty brick inscriptions in Nanjing from the city wall is the largest collection of brick inscriptions in China in existence. So cool!! I have no idea if the bricks I saw fit this category – probably not since they’re not in glass cases – but I’m happy to have noticed them.
My best advice for travelers headed to the Nanjing city wall is to wear very comfortable shoes with good traction. I’m somewhat horrified by heights, so I was timid as I walked towards the edge of the wall on the uneven brick beneath my feet, even in my nice Merrell hiking shoes. To give you an idea of how much walking you could do on this wall, I walked for at least 2 hours and was only on the south side of the lake the entire time. I’m pretty positive there’s a lot more wall to be seen.
Thanks for reading! Talk to you soon 🙂
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