The Great Wall of China is one of the most fascinating wonders of the world, being the only man-made creation visible from outer space. It began to take its place in history when construction began with the Qing Dynasty, and 5000 years later it still stands erect for visitors from all over the world to come and view. While thousands have come to see this Great Wall, only a handful of people have dived it.
Why is the Great Wall Underwater?
The section of the Great Wall that lies underwater is under the surface of Panjiakou reservoir which is about a three hours drive northeast of Beijing. This reservoir was built in 1977 in order to help control the flooding that kept occurring around the valley of Tangshan. The end result was a small village and dam to support the efforts.
In the year of 1981, there were water shortages in Tin Jian. The Chinese government decided that flooding the area where the great wall ran would solve the problem. Currently, this part of the wall sits anywhere from 5 to 35 meters, with a max depth of 20 meters underwater. In order to get to the dive site, you only need to take a boat out to it, which is approximately 40 minutes from the pier. What you find upon your arrival is nothing short of stunning, you will be surrounded by mountains and calm, peaceful waters. As the Chinese would say, the experience is Zen.
The dive entry is from a support block on the wall, and the contrast of white wall to the blue sky is a site to behold. The initial visibility isn’t very good due to the abundance of algae which tends to grow in the light of the sun. Once the diver gets below this area, the visibility improves, allowing the diver to take in what lies beneath. Within seconds, the diver will find themselves in the middle of temperature drop, so this site is definitely not for the faint of heart. The mystery may be enough to push any diver to continue, especially those interested in taking photographs below the water.
Navigating the Wall
Parts of the wall have broken over time due to the elements and weather, but what divers have found so far is fascinating, and simply surreal. The fact that it is still standing under water after more than 30 years is simply amazing and is credited to the quality of stone and other earthen components used to build it.
Underwater photographer Mathieu Meur carried several pieces of equipment below the water in order to get pictures of this amazing underwater scene. With artifacts, varied sea life and an interesting gateway to a tower, there was much to talk about after his dive. Getting the equipment down hundreds of steps was the first thing that Meur had to overcome. What he found after the fact was totally worth it.
“The lake itself is rather barren, with only a couple species of freshwater fish and shrimps”, said Meur. “The real stars here are really the ruins. The wall is in amazingly good condition, considering that it is several hundred years old and is underwater.”
About 13 meters in, Meur discovered what appeared to be a guard tower, with several openings all around it, which developed into some interesting underwater tunnels. Meur stated that as he was underwater with his crew, it was clear that history was right before your very eyes, and so much to see left you speechless. Hearing about something like this, and being right in front of it are two very different ideas, especially when you can snap photographs of it. Navigating the wall and seeing the guard posts took them back in time, reminding them that there was a time when soldiers stood here at their post, keeping China safe from any intruders.
Meur and his team did two dives and wanted to continue, but due to technical problems they were unable to do so. The dive was a challenge simply because of temperature drops along the way. Just in, the water was at 25 Centigrade on the surface, then dropped to six degrees just before you got to the bottom, at about 35 meters. That is a significant drop in temperature for anyone, but especially underwater when diving.
Visibility was limited, but again when algae grows thick and its near the surface, the visibility won’t be very good until you are able to get beyond that. Divers have to be careful not to disturb the seabed or kick up mud, because that will only make the visibility worse.
The most popular parts of the wall that can be found here in the waters are the parts that date back to around the middle of the 16th century. However, the first portions of the wall were actually ordered to be built around 214 B.C. A comprehensive archaeological survey done on the wall has indicated that this wall stretches out to be just over 5,000 miles long, and that includes all of the walls branches. That is a long wall! The part of the wall that is truly a wall section runs just under 3,900 miles, with its trenches equaling 1,387 miles. The trench areas include the natural barriers that one would find like hills and rivers.
If you ever visit the Great Wall of China, be sure to look into diving the Great Wall. Divers must be certified, and in this case it is best to dive with a group that is familiar with the territory so you know what to expect!