How a Terrible Restoration Ruined a Section of the Great Wall of China

Pat Finn Pat Finn

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They say that time is the enemy of beauty. This being the case, the Great Wall of China has had a pretty good run: For over 2,000 years, the wall has stood proud, maintaining its visual identity despite undergoing countless additions and repairs.

That all changed when Chinese officials decided to shore up a 5-mile (8-kilometer) stretch of the wall in order to “protect it from exposure to the elements,” according to a BBC report. In order to save time and money, the restoration team eschewed period-appropriate stones and mortar for a much more efficient material: concrete.

Via Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP)

As a result, the ancient wall now sports a “roof” that is clean and smooth. While this might be great news for skateboarders, critics have maintained that the wall’s new look is both anachronistic and unattractive. “It really was an ugly repair job,” admitted a local official.


Ding Hui, the director of the Liaoning Provincial Antiquities Bureau, explained that the repairs were necessary in order to prevent corroded sections of the 635-year-old stretch of the wall from collapsing. First, gaps in the wall were filled in with cement, sand and other inexpensive materials. Later, an additional, protective layer was overlaid on the top “like a hat,” giving the wall its new smooth look. “The surface does not look ideal,” added the laconic director.

The repaired section of the wall was crumbling in places and in dire need of reinforcement; via BBC.

Although the controversial repairs were carried out way back in 2014, they did not gain widespread attention until 2 years later, when photos surfaced on the Chinese social media site Weibo, sparking thousands of outraged comments. The amount of time it took for people to notice these repairs is a testament to the wall’s immense length. At 5,500 miles (8,851 kilometers), the Great Wall of China is by far the longest structure in the world. The renovated 5-mile stretch is only a fraction of the whole, and easy to overlook.


The restoration team might be forgiven for expecting the public to embrace their unorthodox approach. Carquero Arquitectura received an A+Award in the Preservation category for their restoration of Mantrera Castle in Spain, which fused the collapsing medieval structure with a rectangular concrete tower. Blending old with new is perfectly acceptable, even inspiring, if it is done with elegance or panache. Sadly, this botched Great Wall project misses the mark.

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Cover image: a more frequently traversed segment of the wall; via

Pat Finn Author: Pat Finn
Pat Finn is a high school English teacher and a freelance writer on art, architecture, and film. He believes, with Orwell, that "good prose is like a windowpane," but his study of architecture has shown him that a window is only as good as the landscape it looks out on. Pat is based in the New York metro area.
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