Like us on Facebook
Follow us on Instagram
 

The myth that the Great Wall of China is visible from space originated before anyone had ever been into space

Goran Blazeski

The Great Wall of China is the world’s largest military structure and one of the Seven Wonders of the Medieval World. With a history of more than 2000 years and a total length of 13,171 miles (21,196 km), the Great Wall of China is the most recognizable symbol of China.

The Great Wall was continuously built from the 3rd century BC to the 17th century AD. Construction of the first major wall began in the Qin Dynasty by Emperor Qin Shi Huang who became the first emperor of China when he united the provinces of China and established the capital at Xianyang. He is known for many great accomplishments, including the Great Wall of China that was built to consolidate his empire and to defend the northern borders from barbarian nomads. It is said that more than a million workers died building the Qin wall and reportedly many of these workers were buried within the wall itself.

The Great Wall of China at Jinshanling. Photo Credit

The Great Wall of China at Jinshanling. Photo Credit

Mass uprisings followed the death of Qin Shi Huang, and the Qin Dynasty was replaced by the Han Dynasty. Strengthening of the Great Wall was ordered by emperor Han Gaozu, who renovated and reinforced the wall. Sections of the Great Wall were also repaired, rebuilt, or expanded by the Sui and the Northern dynasties. The construction of the wall continued under the Song Dynasty, the Jin Dynasty, and the Yuan Dynasty. However, the Great Wall of China as we know it today was constructed mainly during the mighty Ming dynasty (1368-1644), from Hongwu Emperor until Wanli Emperor of the Ming Dynasty.

The Great Wall in 1907

The Great Wall in 1907

The Great Wall of China today is among the most recognizable human-made structures in the world and is one of the main tourist attractions in China. It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.

Throughout the years, the Great Wall of China has become the symbol of the Chinese nation and its culture. There are many beautiful legends and stories about the construction of Great Wall. The most popular of these stories is the story of Meng Jiangnu whose husband was pressed by federal officials into helping with the construction of the wall. He never returned, so she decided to go and find him. When she discovered that her husband had died and his body was built into the Great Wall she stayed by the wall and wept for days and nights. It is said that her howl caused the collapse of the wall and she finally found her husband’s body.

An area of the sections of the Great Wall at Jinshanling. Photo Credit

An area of the sections of the Great Wall at Jinshanling. Photo Credit

However, one of the most pervasive urban myths about the Great Wall of China is that this magnificent structure is the only man-made structure on Earth which can be seen from the moon – an average of 238,855 miles (384,400 km) away.

The myth that the wall could be seen from the moon dates back to 1754 and appears in a letter written by the English antiquary William Stukeley, who wrote that “This mighty wall of four score miles [130 km] in length is only exceeded by the Chinese Wall, which makes a considerable figure upon the terrestrial globe, and may be discerned at the Moon.”

William Stukeley

William Stukeley

An English writer named Henry Norman wrote in 1895 that the wall “enjoys the reputation of being the only work of human hands on the globe visible from the Moon.” He believed that the wall was visible from the moon because he was able to see craters on the Moon.

Henry Norman. Photo Credit

Henry Norman. Photo Credit

This myth became even more popular in the 1930’s when a “Ripley’s Believe It or Not!” cartoon called it “the mightiest work of man, the only one that would be visible to the human eye from the moon.” The myth continued to exist until Neil Armstrong returned from the moon in 1969 and said that the Great Wall is “definitely not visible from the Moon”.

Alan Bean, Apollo 12 astronaut said that “The only thing you can see from the Moon is a beautiful sphere, mostly white, some blue and patches of yellow, and every once in a while some green vegetation,” and he also added that “No man-made object is visible at this scale.”

A satellite image of a section of the Great Wall in northern Shanxi, running diagonally from lower left to upper right and not to be confused with the more prominent river running from upper left to lower right.

A satellite image of a section of the Great Wall in northern Shanxi, running diagonally from lower left to upper right and not to be confused with the more prominent river running from upper left to lower right.

Astronauts Eugene Cernan and Ed Lu have said they’ve seen the wall from low orbit but it can be seen only under nearly perfect conditions. “It’s less visible than a lot of other objects. And you have to know where to look,” said astronaut Ed Lu.

 

Pete Conrad, the commander of Apollo 12, stands next to Surveyor 3 lander. In the background is the Apollo 12 lander

Pete Conrad, the commander of Apollo 12, stands next to Surveyor 3 lander. In the background is the Apollo 12 lander

In 2003, astronaut Yang Liwei, who was the first person sent into space by the Chinese space program stated that he had not been able to see the Great Wall of China.

Read another story from us: Six people celebrated the New Year in space

With only about 20 feet (about 6 meters) in width, the Great Wall of China can’t be seen from the moon. There is also a debate as to whether the wall can be seen from orbit, and according to NASA, the wall is barely discernable from low Earth orbit and is visible only under nearly perfect conditions.

We hope you are enjoying The Vintage News. Please consider helping us with our journey to bring popular historical content to everyone by becoming a supporter today. Thanks.

Become a Supporter