Emperor Zhu Yuangzhang,
the founder of the Ming dynasty, was of a very Chinese disposition:
He loved walls, the longer the better.
What is it about Chinese emperors and fortification? They
were constructing walls along their borders from as early
as the 7th century BC! So, soon after he captured Nanjing
in 1356 and declared it his capital, Emperor Zhu, in true
Chinese tradition, ordered the construction of the longest
city wall. The result was an outstanding achievement of architecture,
science, technology and military art.
Over 200,000 labourers toiled at it for 20 long years, digging
up seven million cubic metres of earth to create this massive
battlement that stretches for 33km and stands 20m high. Given
that Zhu spent 30 years at war with various warlords to liberate
China from the Mongols, his affection for fortification was
not merely fanciful: the wall is masterpiece of military defence.
Stories surrounding the wall are as interesting as the wall
itself. There's one behind how the Zhonghua Gate got its name.
Zhonghua or the Gate of Gathering Treasure is the strongest
among the 13 gates in the ancient wall. Legend has it that
during construction, the city wall kept collapsing. Emperor
Zhu was advised to borrow a treasure bowl from the Shen clan
in Suzhou and bury it at the foot of the wall to prevent any
Zhu did more that that. He seized the bowl by force and buried
it. Later the Zhonghua Gate was built and is the only part
of the wall that is still well preserved. Within the gate
there are 27 caves which were used to store military supplies.
The enormous fortress, covering more than 15,000 square metres,
had several rooms inside, each of which could fit in a thousand
soldiers. At the top of the outer wall there were 13,616 battlements
for city defenders to observe the enemy or dodge arrows.
And to think that glutinous rice went into the construction
of this fortress! Into the brickwork joints was pored a mixture
of lime, tong oil and water in which rice had been cooked.
This coagulated mixture was very strong, which is why the
city wall has stood for such a long time. Battle-scarred from
the war of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom and the 1911 Revolution,
this 14th century city wall was listed as an important cultural
relic under state protection in 1988.
Today, nearly 21 km of the wall still stands - more than
20 m high at some points - and is dramatic focal point throughout
much of Nanjing city. Nanjing, the capital of Jiangsu Province,
lies on the southern bank of the Yangtze, and at the foot
of the Purple and Gold mountain.
Nanjing city wall is quite different from ancient city walls
in Beijing and Xi'an, which were constructed in the traditional
style with square of rectangular structures. Instead, this
one is built in a winding free style suited to the city's
The best maintained section of the wall surrounds
Xuanwu Lake Park. The lake, which was once used for naval
exercises during the Song dynasty, has five tiny islands,
connected by bridges, with elegant teahouses, restaurants,
gardens, pavilions, an open-air theatre and even a zoo.
Although the main entrance to the park is on Zhongyang Lu,
a favourite spot with the locals is the Jiefang Men (Liberation
Gate) as it is less touristy. Inside, you'll find old men
fishing and people picnicking, paddle-boating or riding tandem
Enter through Jiefang Men, turn right and you will find a
staircase that leads you through a hole in the city wall.
It takes you trough a bizarre dormitory-like office built
inside the wall and eventually up and back out again.
The top of the wall makes for a comfortable, even exhilarating
walk, about half an hour in either direction on a wide, solid
path that was rebuilt in the 1980s. And the view is expansive
- the shimmering lake to the north and the Purple Mountain
to the east where Zhu's tomb still stands, keeping a watchful
eye on the wall that is his lasting legacy to the city of