10 Walls That Have Actually Been Built
You knew this was coming. At some point in time, you just knew. I’ll skip straight to the facts, folks. I’m not going to use this space to bag on President Trump or the European populists who want to keep refugees from the Middle East out. Walls have been a part of human history as long as trade and government have been a part of human history. It’s just a fact of life. Here are 10 walls in history that have actually been built:
10. Let’s start off with the easiest one: the Great Wall of China. Technically a series of fortifications that began in the 7th century BC, the Great Wall of China as it is popularly depicted - stone walls with carefully-placed watch towers hemming and hawing through lush, green mountain sides -- was built to keep invaders from the north out. The Great Wall was also useful for customs officers and other government officials trying to keep tabs on economic activity. Contrary to popular myth, the Great Wall of China is not a man-made object you can see from the moon (that honor belongs to the Kennecott Copper Mine in Utah and the “greenhouse complex” in Andalusia, Spain).
9. Walls of Constantinople (4th century-1453). Begun in the 4th century with Constantinople’s founding as the new capital city of the Roman Empire, the Walls of Constantinople grew more elaborate and famed abroad as the city grew older and more established. (For example, the famed Theodosian Walls -- double walls built to the west of the original wall -- were constructed in the early part of the 5th century.) Constantinople’s walls survived sieges by Arabs, Russians, Persians, non-Ottoman Turks, and Bulgarians. The walls survived cannons and naval bombardments from the seas surrounding the city. For 900 years the Walls of Constantinople protected the inhabitants of Christianity’s capital city. It is ironic, then, that Constantinople’s walls first fell, in 1204, to Venetian mercenaries (among other factions) during the Fourth Crusade. In 1453, the Walls of Constantinople once again buckled, this time for good, to the forces of the Ottoman Empire.
8. Kano city wall in Nigeria (11th-14th centuries). The walls protecting the west African city of Kano were 50 feet high (the Walls of Constantinople, in contrast, reached up to about 40 feet). Although intimidating, the city walls of Kano did not protect its inhabitants for long. In 1513 the powerful Songhai Empire and its cannons conquered Kano and the city lost its independence for good, passing from one empire to another up to the present day, when it grew to be the second largest city in Nigeria and the de facto capital of the republic’s Muslim north.
7. Hadrian’s wall (est. 122 AD). This wall marked the northern limit of the Roman Empire. Did you know that Hadrian’s Wall is the largest piece of intact Roman archaeology in the world today? Perhaps the most interesting thing about Hadrian’s Wall, at least to a bunch of history enthusiasts like us, are the theories as to why the wall was built in the first place. Surely, the sparsely populated region north of Roman Britain was not worth such an expensive public project. Was it an ostentatious display of power, then, over the barbarians? Was it part of Hadrian’s overall foreign policy strategy of tightening up internal control of the empire before seeking to expand again? Or was Hadrian’s Wall built for something else entirely?
6. Korean DMZ (1953-present). The demilitarized zone on the Korean Peninsula is essentially one long wall. It extends from the Yellow Sea to the Sea of Japan and was built immediately following the ceasefire between the North Korea-China alliance and the United Nations. When North Korea eventually collapses (an inevitable outcome of its socialist policies) and freedom becomes the norm there, the DMZ will become quite the tourist attraction. The entire zone is 160 miles long and 2 ½ miles wide, with tunnels dug by the North Koreans, guard towers, and the ruins of a medieval castle all waiting to fill the coffers of a unified Korea’s tourism department.
5. Berlin Wall (1961-89). Let’s stick with the Cold War theme. The socialists who built the wall in Berlin called it the “Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart,” but by 1961 all of the fascists had long since been defeated. Was the Berlin Wall built to keep people -- “fascists” -- out, or in? With socialism’s blatant failure apparent to all, it seems we now know the answer. This is a far cry from contemporary calls to keep out migrants, or ancient calls to keep out invaders. Still, it’s hard to discount the powerful images of Berliners smashing the socialist-built wall to pieces.
4. Wall Street wall (1600s). Ever wonder why the financial center of the world’s richest, most powerful, and most technologically advanced society in history is called “Wall Street”? It’s because the Dutch built one there in the early 17th century to protect themselves from British and Native rivals. Another theory is that the area was settled by Walloons, a people from Belgium, and the Dutch called them Waals. The wall was brought down by the British in 1699, regardless of how it got its name.
3. Athenian “long walls” (479 BC-86 AD). The long walls of Athens were incredible; they were veritable wonders of the ancient world. The long walls were just that: long walls that connected Athens to her port cities, Piraeus and Phaleron. The initial conception for the walls happened during the time of the invasion of Xerxes, but actual construction of the long walls did not begin until the Peloponnesian War against Sparta and the Peloponnesian League. The walls were built as a lifeline from the sea to Athens; as long as the walls remained, it was impossible for ancient armies to defeat sea-strong Athens. The long walls were so effective against Sparta and her Peloponnesian allies that the alliance had to fight Athens on the sea, where it was strongest, in order to starve the commercial republic into submission. When the Peloponnesians finally captured Piraeus in 405 BC (thus starving Athens), the main demand from the Spartan victors was that the long walls come down. The walls were rebuilt just one decade later (394 BC), and stood until the Romans conquered Greece in 86 AD.
2. Wall of Jericho (Stone Age). The Wall of Jericho is most famous for its role in the Book of Joshua, where the Jews simply walked around the walled city of Jericho with the Ark of the Covenant in tow for seven days and, on the seventh day, the wall collapsed after loud shouting from the conquering Jewish army, leaving the city open for Jewish forces to enter. The problem is, though, that the Book of Joshua describes a Bronze Age event, but archaeologists date the Wall of Jericho to the Stone Age. The Wall of Jericho was, according to archaeologists, built, maintained, and destroyed in the Stone Age. There is no Bronze Age equivalent of Jericho’s Stone Age wall in the archaeological record. The phrase “history is written by the victors” has never been so apt.
1. Kumbhalgarh Wall (“Great Wall of India”). Built in the middle of the 15th century, according to the most up-to-date sources, Kumbhalgarh Wall is the second longest wall in the world after the Great Wall of China and one of the India’s best-kept secrets. Located in Rajasthan, in northwestern India, the wall hosts a series of fortifications and protects over 300 Hindu and Jain temples. The history of this area is still foggy, but Kumbhalgarh was a Hindu fort that eventually came under the dominion of the Muslim Mughal Empire (the wall was in use until the 19th century). There is still plenty of work for historians out there, you just have to know where to look!
I read an excellent book recently titled The Birth of the People’s Republic of Antarctica. It was written by John Calvin Batchelor, a radio personality in New York who has his own show. Mr Batchelor is a conservative Republican. The book is about refugees. It’s one of the most original stories I’ve encountered in years. Here is a link .
Have a good weekend.