You’ve undoubtedly heard talk of building a wall along the southern border of the U.S. While the effectiveness of a wall is debatable in the context of the 21st century, the topic calls to mind some famous walls built throughout human history. One of the best things about travel is it gives us the chance to reflect on where we are, where we’ve come from and where we’re going. Though the walls listed below are no longer used for their original purposes, they still hold great significance as symbols of heritage and a past that should not be forgotten. They remind us that boundaries divide, while travel unites.
Great Wall of China
While it’s not really true that you can see the Great Wall from space (at least with the naked eye), it is an impressive feat of engineering and the extant portions of it span more than 13,000 miles. Erected over the course of several centuries, most of the current wall dates from the Ming Dynasty of the 14th-17th centuries. It served as a border defense and a way to control immigration and emigration but also to regulate trade along the Silk Road. As with anything that has stood for so long, it has been many things to many people, and it’s definitely worth visiting.
Serving as a physical and philosophical boundary from 1961-1989, the Berlin Wall encircled West Berlin, isolating it as an enclave of Western ideals in the midst of East Germany and cut off from East Berlin. The wall is one of the most enduring symbols of the Cold War and the ideological divide that marked the second half of the 20th century. It is almost impossible to describe the psychological effect the wall had on Berliners. The East Side Gallery remains as a 4,300-foot mural capturing the feelings of euphoria and hope that came with the fall of the wall.
Begun by the pre-Incan Killke culture but expanded and perfected by the Incas, Sacsayhuaman is a massive feat of masonry using huge stones carved to fit together without mortar. The construction required hundreds of workers and was so precisely done that the walls have survived devastating earthquakes in Cusco, Peru, which served as the Incan capital. Invading Spaniards tore down most of the citadel for use in constructing homes, so now almost all that remains are the stones too heavy to lift, an indelible symbol of a once-mighty empire.
Part of the expansion of the Second Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, the wall is what remains after the destruction of the temple complex by the Romans in 70 C.E. The wall is the holiest place Jews are allowed to pray, as they are prohibited from the Holy of Holies, which is thought to be under the Muslim holy place the Dome of the Rock. The wall is also sacred to Christians and to those Muslims who consider the spot to be where Muhammad tied the horse Buraq before ascending to heaven. In short, the wall and Temple Mount are a physical manifestation of the religious conflict that has pervaded throughout the history of the Middle East and Jerusalem in particular.
The Roman emperor Hadrian spent his reign traveling around the empire, and the construction of a wall on the island of Great Britain was a result of Hadrian’s policy of consolidation. It marked a physical limit to the Roman empire as well as a reminder to those north of the wall how formidable Rome’s power was. Today, Hadrian’s Wall is a great place to take a walking tour to get a glimpse of what life was like for soldiers stationed far from home in the unfamiliar territory of what is now Northern England. Among the more interesting archaeological finds have been a pair of boxing gloves and letters requesting more beer to pacify bored and rowdy troops.