Anne Majumdar

In 1989, when the Berlin Wall came down, we all cheered. What a silly idea that was, we thought. But even now, walls are still springing up worldwide with the same aim – to divide, separate, isolate.

There are, in fact, more than 50 border walls in the world today, with 15 of those built in the last year. The number of walls being built globally doubled in the decade following 9/11.

They continue to pop up, watered by a wave of sinister nationalism sweeping the globe as demonstrated by the likes of Brexit and the election of a certain perma-tanned president who, incidentally, has a big thing for walls.

Building one between the US and Mexico specifically – a major part of his election campaign.

“I will build a great wall — and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me –and I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.”

It’s clear the idea of a wall to solve problems between two countries is certainly nothing new. But why does it endure? Especially when it clearly doesn’t solve anything. People will always find a way, as the saying goes.

And even though they failed, a number of these crumbling edifices continue to intrigue us, capturing our imaginations with their historic significance and imposing appearances.

We take a look at some of the world’s favourite walls:


The Great Wall of China

Helen Wong Tours Great Wall of China KarryOn

The only manmade structure that can be seen from space, the Great Wall is China’s most iconic attraction. This massive feat of engineering was built over many centuries. The first bricks were laid during the 3rd century BC, and work continued into the 17th century AD.

Known to the Chinese as the ‘Long Wall of Ten Thousand Li’, the wall’s purpose was to defend the ‘Celestial Empire” from attack from its neighbours such as the Mongols and the Turks, among others.

It makes its way more than 20,000 kilometres across the country from Shanhaiguan in Hebei province in the east, ending at Jiayugan in Gansu province in the west, broken up at intervals by natural barriers such as mountain ranges.

Although the wall can be visited in many provinces of north China, it is at its most impressive in the Beijing municipality with much of the rest of the structure crumbling due to natural erosion and human damage.

But even this most famous of brick barriers was considered pretty ineffective back in the days of the “barbarians” it was built to keep out.


The Berlin Wall


On August 13 1961, the Communist government of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) which was commonly known as East Germany, began to build a barbed wire and concrete divide between East and West Berlin. The idea was to prevent Western “fascists” from entering and undermining the socialist state, but it ended up actually stemming mass defections in the other direction.

But the deeper problems that were driving the attempted migrations remained untackled and so the wall was not only ineffective, but became a symbol of oppression.

The Berlin Wall stood until November 9 1989, when the head of the East German Communist Party announced that citizens of the GDR could cross the border as they pleased. Crowds instantly gathered at the wall, some crossing into West Berlin, others chipping away at the wall with hammers and picks.

To this day, the Berlin Wall remains one of the most powerful and enduring symbols of the Cold War.


The Peace Walls

Image credit: The Guardian

Image credit: The Guardian

During The Troubles that plagued Northern Ireland for the three decades between 1968 and 1998, barriers of stone and steel were erected to keep the loyalists and nationalists apart.

Named “Peace Walls”, they aimed to protect and restore peace to the local communities during this violent era that saw more than 3,600 people killed. They still separate Catholic and Protestant communities today, with 99 barriers in Belfast alone while similar walls exist in Derry.

But with the easing of the violence, their role changed and now they are visited by tourists – particularly those in West Belfast.


Hadrian’s Wall


For nearly 300 years, Hadrian’s Wall represented the north-western frontier of the Roman Empire, running 80 Roman miles from one coast to the other in northern Britain – from Wallsend in the east and Bowness-on-Solway in the west.

The wall was built in under six years by a force of 15,000 men under the orders of Emperor Hadrian following his arrival in Britain in AD122 – hence the name.

Now tourists flock to see the wall’s ramparts and forts thanks to its status as a major and visionary feat of engineering, but also because of the dramatic vistas.

Do you have a thing for walls?