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Putting Up Boundaries: Famous Walls in History

President Trump is not the first leader to want to fortify a country’s boundary with a wall. Throughout history, walls have been erected to keep out invaders or outsiders — and in some cases to keep people in. Mostly, they were unsuccessful in their mission. Here are five famous walls and their stories.


Great Wall of China

When speaking of walls in history, the Great Wall of China is likely the one that most often comes to mind. The Great Wall of China is the longest border wall in the world and was built to protect China from nomadic tribes. It may also be one of the largest graveyards. More than a million workers died during its construction, which lasted thousands of years and covered more than 13,000 miles. Many of the deceased were buried underneath the wall. The wall was mostly unsuccessful, as people erected structures to climb over it, or they merely traveled long distances to go around it. Sadly, more than a third of the wall has disappeared due to human activities and mother nature.


Berlin Wall

Although its history was brief, the Berlin Wall is another famous wall — at least for those born in the 20th century. After World War II, the Allied powers divided Germany into East and West, and Communist East Germany built a wall through Berlin to keep East Germans from defecting to the West. Often called the “Iron Curtain,” the wall separated families and caused the deaths of hundreds trying to escape the Communist regime. The Berlin Wall was ceremoniously torn down in 1989, signaling the breakup of the Soviet Union.


Vatican City Walls

In the 800s, Saracen pirates sacked St. Peter’s Basilica. To protect the church against future invasions from the Muslim invaders, the pope called for walls to be built around Vatican City. The walls are between 20 and 30 feet tall and surround the city, except for a 250-foot gate. These days, the walls keep no one out — legal or illegal — unless they happen to set off the metal detectors.

Hadrian’s Wall

The most famous of the Roman Empire boundaries, Hadrian’s Wall, was built by Roman Emperor Hadrian after the Roman conquest of Britain in the second century A.D. Built to keep out barbarians from the north, it stretched more than 70 miles across the northern English countryside. After the Romans withdrew from Britain, the wall served as a stone quarry for building castles, churches, and houses along its line. Today, there are only a few places where remnants of the wall still stand.


Wall Street

Last but not least — but perhaps most surprising — is Wall Street. Yes, it started as an actual 12-foot-high wall. It was built in the 17th century as a boundary between Manhattan’s Native American people and the Dutch settlers, or to protect the Dutch from the British, depending on which story you believe. It was also used as a marketplace where people hired out their slaves. It became a business hub when 24 traders signed an agreement to trade stocks with each other. The agreement was signed under a buttonwood tree and became known as the Buttonwood Agreement. Over time, it evolved into the New York Stock Exchange and Wall Street as we know it today.

These are just a few examples of famous walls throughout history. No doubt, there will continue to be walls built and people trying to circumvent them. Whether there will be one in the southern U.S. in the near future remains to be seen.

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