Chinese Historical Wonders – UNESCO World Heritage Sites
People who visit China are often amazed at the opportunities to take in centuries of history through visits to historical sites beginning in the first millennium BC to recent wonders. While there is too much to see on most trips, a good guideline when fleshing out an itinerary are the UNESCO World Heritage sites that have been recognized internationally for their contributions to culture and our understanding of how China came to be.
The Great Wall – Shanhaiguan to Lop Lake
Trying to take in the entire 5,500-mile length of the Great Wall of China is effectively impossible, though parts will likely be in view for travelers on their flights to China. Instead, tourists may want to focus on a few key areas depending on how much time they have and what strikes them the most about one of the wonders of the world:
1) Forts at the Badaling, Jiayuguan and Shanhaiguan – These areas were all strong points for Chinese soldiers who were looking to keep out foreign invaders including the Mongols. The Badaling section has some of the highest fortifications to help the army protect passes near Beijing from invaders including the Mongols looking to avoid long traveling distances to threaten the key city.
Similar structures are found at Wangjinglou one of several dozen towers that look menacing at up to a half-mile or more above sea level. Many of these sections of the wall are either at critical passes or close to major population centers in Medieval China.
2) Mutianyu Great Wall – As with the forts noted above, the Mutianyu section is imposing both for the amount of construction to ensure that the walls were high enough and offered enough space for soldiers to protect the area. The striking views this section provides are in part because ancient workers built the wall along the mountains, with the stone edifice undulating up from the Juyonnguan Pass for a bit more than a mile.
Forbidden City – Beijing
From the 1300s to the 20th century, a seemingly unending string of Chinese emperors made their home in the Forbidden City located in the center of Beijing. While it is considered a palace, it may be more accurate to say that it is a royal town with nearly 1,000 buildings that visitors can see as a core piece of not just imperial power but also the hallmark of palatial architecture in Asia.
Travelers do not have to go into any of the buildings there, however, to see artwork and artifacts from collections that span dozens of emperors’ reigns. The Palace Museum covers the period from the Ming to the Ching dynasties that include paintings, vases, bronze ware from cooking to weapons and even more. The scale of the collections may seem staggering, with more than 50,000 paintings and 1,000 clocks in the museum’s possession alone.
Terracotta Warriors – Mount Li, Shannxi Province
The first emperor of China was looking to create a long-lasting legacy, yet for roughly 2,000 years, the Terracotta Army and Horses were hidden from view below. While it now is a great option for tourists, it may require some imagination to fully grasp what it once looked like. As it stands now, the figures are easily visible, but at the time of the first emperor’s death, rivers of mercury once coursed through the burial ground as a silver-colored network of waterways that augmented the site’s overall appearance. The liquid metal has now completely leached into Mount Li.
According to legend, Qin Shi Huang chose the site because the mountain contained gold on one side and jade on the other. Today, vacationers who visit China are much more interested in the entire necropolis, or mausoleum and other compnents. There are thousands of terra cotta soldiers of varying heights related to their rank, and with unique facial features for each one. Both the warriors and their steeds are life-sized and unique.
Pingyao – Shanxi Province
Pingyao is a few hundred miles from Beijing, but it is still worth considering for a travel itinerary for those looking to immerse themselves in the history of China. The architecture spans hundreds of years of Chinese design and the ancient walls and existing buildings look much the same as they have for centuries. A market town in olden days, the courtyards and streets are hemmed in by low-slung buildings of historical note. While it is growing as a tourist attraction, going during the fall or spring may help those looking to avoid crowds.