As long as humans have existed on the planet, we have had borders and territories. Sometimes through peace and sometimes through violence, groups of people have decided who would and wouldn’t live where. A common way of implementing these territorial restrictions has always been to build walls. Both in ancient times and today’s world, nations build walls to stop people from passing their or others’ borders. Now, let’s look at some of the most (in)famous walls in history.
Also known as the Wall of Mardu, Amorite Wall was made by the Sumerians in the 21st century BC. It is one of the earliest examples of a border wall, stretching for nearly 1600 kilometers inside the region that is now Iraq. The wall was the Sumerian King Gimil-Sin’s attempt at keeping the Amorite people away from the borders of the kingdom.
However, the wall did not cover the whole border of Sumeria, and invaders easily went over or around it. The wall’s failure was also one of the primary reasons for the Sumerian Kingdom’s eventual downfall. Today, the wall is completely destroyed and only traces of it exist.
Walls of Babylon
An ancient wall that belonged to a legendary, even mythical, society, the Walls of Babylon encircled the city and many considered it impenetrable. While Hammurabi was the one who started the wall and encircled the city, Nebuchadnezzar II was the one who greatly improved the walls in the 7th century BC. Aside from improvements and expanding it further, Nebuchadnezzar decorated the wall with blue and gold tiles.
Restored ruins of the South palace of Nebuchadnezzar in ancient Babylon
Although the wall is now destroyed, there are various records telling its astonishing height and size. According to Herodotus, the Walls of Babylon stretched for 90 kilometers, and were nearly 100 meters tall, with a width of 24 meters. The walls were so thick that chariots could run on them and have competitions. Today, only a reconstructed fragment of the walls exists in Berlin Museum.
The Great Wall of Gorgan
Built by the Sasanians between the 6th and 5th centuries BC, with a length of 200 kilometers, the Great Wall of Gorgan is one of the earliest and longest defense walls. The Sasanians built the wall as protection against the Huns and put 38 fortresses along the wall which housed nearly 30.000 soldiers. Some historians argue that the true length of the wall might be even longer since a considerable part of the wall is buried under the Caspian Sea.
Also known as the Red Snake because of the fired bricks used in construction, the Wall of Gorgan reveals intricate workmanship and technology. Unesco estimates that at least 200 million fired bricks may have been used to build the wall. Additionally, to provide the soldiers with water, the Sasanians dug up canals that took water from the Gorgan River, an impressive feat considering the time and age.
In the year 43, Romans invaded Britain and for 40 years expanded their territories. They mostly acquired what is today England and stayed there for nearly 400 years. Their conquest was full of battles and territorial disputes, especially with the tribes that lived in the North of Britain, namely Scotland. The emperor Hadrian considered the Scots a huge threat. Therefore, he ordered the construction of a wall along the border of Roman-occupied lands and the North in AD 122.
Hadrian’s Wall took 6 years and 15.000 men to build. It wasn’t just an unsupervised border wall but it was a garrison with turrets, milecastles, and forts. Unfortunately, only 10% of the original wall exists but historians believe that it was at least 117 kilometers long. A unique side of Hadrian’s Wall is that we actually know (some of) the people who worked on it because each garrison of soldiers was allocated a wall to inscribe their names on it. Hadrian’s Wall was a testament to the magnitude of the Roman civilization and its dominance over the world.
The Walls of Ston
Built between the 14th and 15th centuries, the Walls of Ston protected the city of Ston, a part of the Republic of Ragusa, now Croatia. The walls also connected Ston to Mali Ston which is a town right next to it. The wall is 7 kilometers long and it is one of the most preserved famous walls in history. After recent renovations, the Walls of Ston has become an important tourist attraction for Croatia.
The walls have 40 towers of which 20 are still here and 5 fortresses. Aside from protecting the city of Ston, the walls served as protection for the Republic’s salt pans which they used to extract salt from the sea which was a very lucrative endeavor. The Walls of Ston are such an influential sight that they inspired George R. R. Martin, the author of Game of Thrones, as The King’s Landing was based on Ston and its walls.
The Great Wall of China
One of the most impressive human achievements, spanning more than 20.000 kilometers, the Great Wall of China is the world’s longest wall. Specifically, it is not just one wall but separate walls being combined through time. Historians estimate that the first wall’s construction began in the 7th century BC and the expansion continued until the 17th century. Each emperor added extensions to the wall and Ming emperors fortified it with garrisons and soldiers, making it a true wall of increased defense.
The wall had different purposes throughout China’s history. Primarily, the separate walls served as protection and border lines across the princedoms. After the unification of the princedoms and the walls, it protected the kingdom against the Mongol invasion. Moreover, the wall protected the Silk Road and showed the direct support of the kings and emperors on commerce.
When WW2 ended, the world practically split itself into two, USA and USSR, and their supporters. Although the US and the Soviets did not go to war, they clashed on several occasions, dodged nuclear annihilation, and through satellite states they tried to expand their influence. One of the clash locations was Germany. After the war, Germany was divided into 4 parts which were under the control of France, the UK, the US, and the Soviets. However, millions of people emigrated to other zones to escape the Soviets but the Soviets did not want anyone from their territory to cross into the Western Bloc. Therefore, they built the Berlin Wall in 1961.
The wall was concrete proof of the division between the Western countries led by the US and the Eastern ones led by the Soviets. Tanks and soldiers guarded the wall and there were traps to keep people from escaping. Although the wall stopped the disputes over Berlin which could have caused another war for the already battered Europe, it was an inhumane practice that forcefully caged Eastern Germans for nearly 40 years until it was demolished.
Belfast Peace Walls
When Ireland separated from England in 1921, England divided Ireland into two. Northern Ireland stayed a part of the United Kingdom while the South became the Republic of Ireland. The crucial difference between the North and the South is their religious sects. While the South is predominantly Catholic, the North is Protestant and supports the English Monarchy. However, there was a considerable number of people who wanted to unite the North with the Republic. The conflicts between the Nationalists and the Loyalists were called the era of “The Troubles.”
During The Troubles, thousands died and were injured. The civil unrest, riots, and violence increased so much that the government started to build walls that separated the mostly Catholic communities from the mostly Protestant ones in 1969. What is unique about the Peace Walls is that although The Troubles ended, the walls stand tall and the government even added 40 more between the late 1990s and 2010s. Today, the total length of the Belfast Peace walls is more than 30 kilometers.