Category Archives: A Brief History of Some Walls

A Brief History of Some Walls: Roman Wall of Lugo

Lugo Wall

Source: Lala Lugo via Wikicommons

The Lugo Wall is the only urban defensive wall of Roman Empire origin still intact and complete: its 5 original gates or portas [False, Miñá, San Pedro, Santiago and Nova] and 46 towers stand with great impression. It is for this reason in year 2000 it became part of the World Heritage Site Family but before that period, specifically in 1921, the Lugo Wall became a National Monument.[1] Today, the Roman Wall would not exist if many persons like Engineer major-general Felipe Paz, received permission to knock down the wall for city growth. It is safe to say that people of Galicia, Spain are extremely pleased that the wall stayed intact because it is not only a pleasing monument but also a major income earner for the area. Many tourist travel from far and year exploring the wall and explore the sites within reach.

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A Brief History of Some Walls: The Great Wall of Gorgan

The Great Wall of Gorgan

For our exciting journey on A Brief History of Some Walls in History, this week we dig through the lands of ancient Persia, acquainting our shovels and brushes with the enigma of The Great Wall of Gorgan.

Excavation site at Qareh Deeb. [Source:]

Divar-e Gorgan better known as The Great Wall of Gorgan is a massive structure in north-eastern Persian [modern-day Iran] which borders present day Turkmenistan. The wall is also known as The Red Snake because of the red brick used during construction. It snakes 195 kilometres west to east from the foot of the Elburz Mountains to the Caspian Sea. Today, marine sediments cover much of the westernmost section of the wall because of higher sea levels. The studies conducted on the wall show the refined engineering capabilities of the Sasanians architects. The Edinburgh Research Explorer Team in 2006 makes an interesting point that, the Gorgan Wall differs from other walls. It does not follow the rise and fall of the terrain rather it tries to keep up a gentle gradient like the flow of a canal.

Although The Great Wall of Gorgan is more than 1,000 years older than The Great Wall of China and longer than The Hadrian Wall and Antoine Wall joined, the Gorgan Wall is one of the most obscure walls of ancient history. Compared to other walls both younger and smaller, the expeditions are fewer – the first tour by Dr. Kiani in 1971. The next documented excursion to the wall was in the 1999, followed by excavations from 2005-2008. Recent archaeological studies show that The Great Wall of Gorgan borders or probably joined The Tammishe Wall near the Caspian Sea. It is important to highlight archaeologists’ on-going research of probable connection between the western section of The Great Wall of Gorgan and The Tammishe Wall. The arrangement of the brick kilns on each wall edifice, brick size, the location of the forts and the direction of canals show that both structure may share a common tradition. Are they part of the separate monuments or separate two parts of one wall?

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A Brief History of Some Walls: Hadrian Wall


This week in the series  A Brief History of Some Walls in History  we journey to a wall which is very popular with visitors in England, contributing  much to the economy of  the Northern Districts:The Hadrian Wall.

The wall travelling 73 miles [80 Roman miles] through Carlisle, Newcastle, Northumbria and Cumbria, is the most elaborate Northern most defence frontier of the Roman Empire in the UK. In 1987, The Hadrian Wall received World Heritage status from UNESCO because of its relevance as a reminder of Roman military practise in Britain. According to John J. Wilkes, historians at first doubted  the emperor who constructed the wall, thus it was known as the Roman Wall or the Picts Wall [the Picts attacked around the time the Romans rule ended]. At the beginning of the quarter of the century, excavations dubbed Emperor Publius Aelius Hadrianus as the builder, he ruled from (117-138 AD). Guy de la Bédoyère notes that the wall became more an Aelius Wall in 2003, when a metal detector user found a bronze small enamelled vessel, in the West Midlands. The cup, though not the first Roman souvenir of the area provides evidence for a Hadrian wall because of its inscriptions.

The Hadrian Wall constructed from AD 120 to 130 AD was ten feet, made of stone in the west but composed of turf in the east. Some authors believe the use of white paint on both sides of the grey stone wall, was the Roman way of the wall standing out to show the power and dominance of the imperial empire. Workers built a ditch along the Northern face of the wall and forts occupied the length of the wall. Every Roman mile,  the men built castles along the wall known as milecastles. The Vallum [later called by that name] was a ditch and mound system which served as an earthen frontier to the south of the wall. Different weather patterns and constant repairs to finished and unfinished parts of the wall, kept the army very busy on the frontier. According to Guy de la Bédoyère, the materials for the wall were free but the  Emperor paid his soldiers.

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A Brief History of Some Walls: The Great Wall of China

The Great Wall of China


Many describe The Great Wall as the longest structure built on earth. According to legend it is so magnificent that one can see it from space. It travels for 4, 500 miles in the North, touches the East Coast and the North Central of China, meandering through mountains, lower lands and the Gobi Desert. It is interesting to note that the translation for the wall was not always ‘Great’ but ‘Long Wall.’ As Julia Lovell puts it, the Great Wall is a collection of walls. The Chinese are known for their love of walls based on their early construction [from the 1st millennium BC], around the fields of farms, temples, houses and palaces. Furthermore, in the spiritual realm the Chinese paid homage to their God of Wall and Moat. According to Louise Chipley Slavicek, the Chinese believed that the God of Wall and Moat informed a person of their death. His two assistants, half human and half beast lead the departing soul to the frontier wall [separating the earth from the spirit realm] of the underworld.

              The Qin Wall

Emperor Shi Huangdi of the Qin dynasty around 220 BC had his trusted general Meng Tian begin construction on the Qin Wall, using earth, stone and wood. The Mongol horsemen were a pain in the butt for the Chinese provinces in the North; many feared their warfare tactic of barging in, take and retreat. It is interesting to note that the Mongol horsemen did not partake in siege warfare because of their lacking skills and the time consumption of that task. Hence, a formidable wall was the one solution to prevent man and horse from effortlessly invading the territories of the Chinese. Albert Bushnell Hart posits a very interesting view that the wall as a defence was useful because of the many repeated repairs to its structure. The constant repairs could only mean the strong want to protect something that works for their protection. The Great Wall also served as a symbol of status and power for Emperor Shi Huangdi. According to Joseph R. O’Neill, to build his wall, Shi Huangdi, forced over 500,000 men from towns and villages in China. In addition, the emperor ascertained that criminals as well as intellectuals worked towards building the wall. Many of the workers slept on the ground due to lack of enough beds and blankets. The unfortunate workers who toiled far from a river or lake did not have fresh water to drink. Furthermore, since the construction took farmers away from their fields and bandits confiscated supplies sent to the wall there was a shortage of food. The Qin Wall, extended beyond the original small walls into ‘barbarian’ territory. Joseph R. O’Neill, cites that work on the wall ended  in 214 BC. Leslie A. DuTemple puts the construction death toll at one million under the Shi Huangdi rule. In addition, the emperor made certain that the widows of the construction workers worked in their place. As a result many children were left to care for themselves and many passed away.  Work on the wall left many persons dissatisfied with the emperor’s rule. After Shi Huangdi death, the Han dynasty ruled in China focused mostly on the people, Qin Wall deteriorated because of neglect. However, when emperor Wu Di [he ruled from 141 to 87 BC] came to power, he ordered a 300 mile extension to the wall as a protection for traders on their business to the West.

              The Ming Wall

Major reconstruction to the wall occurred during the Ming rule; today’s wall is a product of the various emperors under this Dynasty. Robert Coupe asserts the view that by the 15th century AD, the original wall [Qin Wall] was almost completely deteriorated. The Ming family [ruled from 1368-1644] extended the wall to the East and South. The Qin Wall was mainly earth but the Mings used brick and stone, it was stronger.  New material required twice the labour and skills. Xu Da, first supervisor of the new construction saw fortification in particular mountainous regions. The men built watch towers two stories high, every one hundred miles; they served as first defence barrier against any attack. Therefore, they could send messages to each other along the wall and further inland by burning wood and straw. The watchmen used these smoke signals to alert that danger approaches, get ready for possible invasion. Additionally, the towns and fort built along the Wall especially during the Ming Dynasty served as headquarters for soldiers. Ming Wall was complete by the end of the 16th century.

         Other Use of the Wall

Under Manchu Qing, China’s last Dynasty (1644- 1912), the wall became no more as a boundary and military defence. Throughout the Great Wall’s history, it use included not only defence from enemies and a border. It served as a tool to control immigration and emigration and an economic device to regulate trade especially for the Silk Industry.


Since the wall is China’s major tourist attraction, attention from  government and local groups increased from the early 20th century. To the outside world, many see the wall as China’s unofficial national symbol. New emerging studies compiled from archaeologists digs aid in understanding more on the structure and function of the wall.


Coupe, Robert. The Great Wall of China. 2013: Rosen Publishing Group, n.d.

DuTemple, Lesley. The Great Wall of China. Twenty- First Century Books, 2013.

Fisher, Leonard Everett. The Great Wall of China. Simon and Schuster, 1995.

Hart, Albert Bushnell. “The Great Wall of China.” Bulletin of the American Geographical Society, Vol. 42, No.6 (1910): 438-441.

Lovell, Julia. The Great Wall: China Against The World, 1000BC-AD 2000. Grove Press, 2007.

O’Donnell, Kerri. The Great Wall of China. Rosen Classroom, 2002.

O’Neill, Joseph. Great Wall of China. ABDO, 2010.

Richardson, Adele. The Great Wall. The Creative Company, 2005.

Slavicek, Lousie Chipley. The Great Wall of China. Infobase Publishing, 2009.

Turnbull, Stephen. The Great Wall of China 221 BC- AD 1644. Osprey Publishing, 2012

You should follow this link to explore the first of the Walls Series on the Berlin Wall.


A Brief History of Some Walls: The Berlin Wall

Photo of the Fall of the Berlin Wall

Source: The New York Times



I think it is safe to say that the Berlin Wall is one of the first borders the mind conjures when the topic of  the end of The Cold War springs into life. In addition, the memories of  Berlin Wall teaches a lesson  on the policy of isolationism and forced  efforts against emigration [hopefully]. The Berlin Wall is the first in the series  of  ‘A Brief History of Walls’ that I will explore, a timely piece as a reminder of the 25th anniversary of the fall of the wall on  November 9th.

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