Throughout history, empires have built defensive fortifications to protect important sites or ward off invading forces. Some of these empires succeeded while others fell, but many of their walls remain today. In their time, many of the walls in this gallery aimed to separate people for one reason or another. Today, they are destinations that invite visitors from all over the world to witness a piece of history. From China to Berlin, these are seven famous (or infamous) walls worth visiting.
Paste Travel’s Bucket List columnist Lauren Kilberg is a Chicago-based freelance writer. Her travels have found her camping near the Pakistani border of India and conquering volcanoes in the Philippines.
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Arguably the most famous wall on Earth, the UNESCO World Heritage Great Wall of China is a staple on any bucket list. It's comprised of a collection of fortifications that run east to west from Dandong to Lop Lake dating as far back as 220 BC. Some reports put the entire wall at just more than 13,100 miles long. Depending on where you visit, portions remain in varying states. Those that are restored and better maintained are the most popular to visit and therefore significantly more crowded. Tours from Beijing are easy to arrange and will have you on the wall in less than two hours. Prepare to pay an entry fee and to be greeted by vendors hawking souvenirs and snacks.
Photo by Tom Davidson, CC BY-NC 2.0
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At more the 2,000 years old, Jerusalem's Western Wall is an important holy site for the Jewish faith. It was originally built by Herod the Great to protect a temple, which was later destroyed. Today portions of the original wall are still visible near its base, the rest has been restored. Located within the Old City, the wall is considered an important pilgrimage site where Jews can be seen praying. It runs along the western base of Temple Mount, a holy site for Christians, Muslims and Jews. All religions are welcome to visit the wall and pray. You can also tour tunnels beneath the wall, which includes no shortage of religious and archaeologically-relevant sites.
Photo by Terry Straehley, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
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Hadrian's Wall, an ancient fortification and modern-day UNESCO World Heritage Site, stretched for nearly 80 miles across northern England in its day. It reportedly took more than 15,000 men nearly half a decade to build the wall during Hadrian's rule. Portions remain today and are open to the public. Alternatively, some opt to see it while walking the Hadrian Wall Path National Trail, a week-long and 84-mile pilgrimage between the coasts of the Irish and North seas.
Photo by Visit Britain, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
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The Berlin Wall, important in both a political and historical sense, infamously divided East and West Germany between 1961 and 1989. The large concrete wall, erected by the German Democratic Republic during the Cold War, served to keep people from defecting from the Communist-ruled Eastern Bloc. Little remains of the nearly 100-mile-long wall. The best-preserved section, which stands as a memorial, stretches for less than a mile and is known as the East Side Gallery. The Berlin Wall Memorial (Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer) features a small section of the wall as well. You can also visit the Allied Museum, which features, among its numerous free exhibits, a portion of the wall and the famous Checkpoint Charlie guardhouse.
Photo by SarahTz, CC BY 2.0
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The Walls of Ston once ran more than four miles long and served to protect the Croatian city from invading Ottomans. Ston is located along the Dalmatian coast and the walls, the longest in Europe, stretched the width of the Pelješac Peninsula in their day. Portions of the walls remain and are a popular tourist attraction for those visiting the city today. For incredible views of the Adriatic Sea and surrounding area, climb the walls and ready your camera.
Photo by Mario Fajt, CC BY 2.0
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The ancient ruins of Sacsayhuaman, a citadel above Cusco and the capital of the Inca Empire, can still be explored today. The fortress and its series of walls reportedly took more than 20,000 men over seven decades to build. The giant stone blocks are stacked near-perfectly to form a series of zigzagging walls that serve as a fine example of Inca architecture. Visiting this UNESCO World Heritage Site requires only a short car ride from Cusco and a reasonable entrance fee.
Photo by Frank_am_Main, CC BY-SA 2.0
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At 11 miles long, the Aurelian Walls of Rome are considered the best-preserved ancient city walls in the world. They were built between 271 and 275 AD and continue to enclose much of Rome's center. If you're visiting the city, you can't miss them, but a stop at the Museum of the Walls (Mueso delle Mura) is a worthy addition to any itinerary. The museum is housed within Porta San Sebastiano, a well-preserved gate along the wall.
Photo by gichristof, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0