feature stories

Guest Blog: Walking the City Walls in Nanjing

Through the British Council in Beijing, I was privileged to be invited to the first International Forum on City Wall Protection and Utilisation held in Nanjing at the end of May as part of a wider World Historical and Cultural Cities Expo – a biennial event.

The Nanjing Municipal People’s Government is leading a bid for UNESCO World Heritage Site (WHS) status by a group of 14 cities in China with remarkable city walls of the Ming and Qing dynasties, comprising the best examples of over 2000 cities with Ming dynasty walls. Part of my work for Historic England involves existing and proposed “serial” WHSs with several geographically separate component parts so it was a great opportunity to meet with colleagues from across the world involved in similar areas of work and to share learning and experience. In addition, the British Council together with the Foreign Affairs Office of the Nanjing Government was able to set up a useful meeting with the Director of the Nanjing Municipal Bureau of Culture, Broadcasting TV, Press & Publication to discuss the WHS nomination.

The city walls of Nanjing are truly impressive. The defences were designed by Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang (1368-1398) after he founded the Ming Dynasty and established Nanjing as the capital. The defences were arranged in four concentric alignments, the first and innermost of which comprises an imperial palace. The outer wall, little of which now survives originally extended to over 60km and the circuit within this to 35km. Today over 25km of the city walls survives as a massive construction with a height of up to 26m; at up to 9m width at its top it feels more like a road than the top of a line of defence.

Nanjing Cultural Heritage
Nanjing City Wall. Photo by Henry Owen-John

The bricks used in the construction were manufactured using a rigorous quality control system involving stamps with the name of the individual producers so that any substandard bricks could be traced back to the producer.