Simatai section of Great Wall closes for renovations


An increasingly popular and remote section of the Great Wall, Simatai, has been closed off for renovation since June 17. According to authorities, it will be undergoing work for two years, which means three seasons before it is reopened.

The Simatai Great Wall is situated in Miyun County, 120 kilometers (74.5 miles) northwest of downtown Beijing. It is largely in its original state, as it has not undergone much renovation like other sections near Beijing. This particular section, built in the early Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), is 4.5 kilometers (2.8 miles) long, with the Jinshanling Great Wall to the west.

The wall is characterized by its steepness, the closeness of its watchtowers and variety in its structure. The wall follows the topmost ridge of the mountain, or the precipices and cliffs sections of the Heavenly Stairway and the Heavenly Bridge, and is unimaginably breath-taking. The narrow Heavenly Stairway has no parapet and reaches an angle of 85 degrees, while the Heavenly Bridge is only 30 centimeters (12 inches) wide at the top. As safety comes first, visitors are not permitted to climb on them.

The watchtowers are particularly closely distributed on this section of the wall. By the normal standard of building the wall, watchtowers would be built every 500 meters (547 yards). In this 4.5-kilometer wall, there are thirty-five watchtowers, with the minimum distance between towers being only 43.8 meters (48 yards). These watchtowers are symbolic and to be marveled at. The well-preserved General Tower is adorned with relief sculptures with designs of Kylin, a legendary auspicious animal in China. Seen from a distance, the fourteenth tower in the east looks like an elegant cat squatting on the top of a hill. The exquisite and complex Fairy Tower hidden among the trees gives an impression of some concealed beauty. The sixteenth tower, at an altitude of 986 meters (3,235 feet) is also known as the Watch Beijing Tower. It is the highest tower in the Simatai section, and commands a spectacular view.

The wall itself has seven modes of construction. Four of these are single wall, double wall, obstacle wall, and parapet. In contrast to the enhanced double wall, a single wall was built in one thickness on the terrifying bluffs and is too narrow to walk on. The obstacle wall and the parapet were built on the coping of the whole wall. The obstacle wall served to prevent the enemy from shooting at the wall-guards and the parapet served as a handrail. Watchtowers vary in shape and size. If you look carefully, you may find even the roof of towers are different, flat, polygonal, or dome-shaped.

It is really a tough hike to climb this section of the wall, but it is enormously rewarding. Now, cable cars are in use to provide an alternative to the hike.