The Great Wall of China is one of the most awe-inspiring man-made structures in the world. And now it is showing signs of decay at the hand of its maker. The effects of tourism and non-sanctioned recycling of its stone elements are starting to take a noticeable toll on the wall, with 30 percent the massive structure now gone.

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The Wall has a long and rich history, with construction beginning in the third century BC and hitting its peak during the Ming Dynasty between 1368 and 1644. More than 4,000 miles of the wall were constructed throughout this period, more than 1,200 of which have since disappeared. The overall distance of the wall is tricky to calculate. Estimates range from 5,600 to 13,000 miles, depending on whether long stretches of missing and dilapidated structures are included in the total tally.

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While some towers and paths have succumbed to years of weathering and overgrowth, significant portions of the wall’s stones are being pilfered and sold by nearby residents for use as housing materials. While the act is illegal, it is difficult to pinpoint who to fine the standard 5,000 yuan for the crime. In addition, tourism has gone off the beaten path to explore under-developed, less sturdy sections of the wall, which has resulted in extensive damage. There are also reports of graffiti, litter, and nails bored into the wall for camping. So, what’s a curious tourist to do? As the China Highlights travel website suggests to visitors: “do not leave behind anything besides your footsteps and take away nothing more than your memories.”

Via Discovery News

Images via Wikimedia, Flickr and Shutterstock (1, 2)