Famous Fences From Around the World, Fences have long been used to mark boundaries, provide security, and make artistic statements. While most fences blend into the background of our lives, some have gained worldwide recognition for their impressive designs, controversial purposes, or prominent locations.
From divisive border walls to decorative palace enclosures, here are six famous fences known around the globe that have left their mark on history.
The Great Wall of China
Certainly the most iconic fence in the world, the Great Wall of China stands out for its tremendous scale and serpentine design traversing Chinese topography. Initially built in pieces by separate kingdoms to keep out invading nomads from the north, the wall Sections were later unified into one megastructure by the first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang.
Stretching over 13,000 miles long, the Great Wall took centuries to construct using stone, bricks, tamped earth, and wood. While not continuously visible today, hundreds of miles of restored and unrestored wall Sections remain that give a glimpse into this towering symbol of Chinese defense and ingenuity.
Though the effectiveness of the wall has been debated by historians, it has become an iconic destination, attracting over 10 million visitors per year.
The Berlin Wall
Unlike the Great Wall of China, the Berlin Wall was designed not to keep outsiders away but to trap a population inside. Constructed in 1961 by Communist East German authorities, the 96-mile Berlin Wall encircled West Berlin to prevent migration to the Western Bloc during the Cold War Era.
The 12-foot-high wall featured not just concrete barriers but guard towers, electric fencing, and a no man’s land “death strip” with beds of nails and other defences to separate Communist East Germany from Democratic West Germany.
The Berlin Wall soon became a global symbol of communist oppression and division in Europe. When the wall unexpectedly came down in 1989 with the fall of the Soviet Union, its dismantling marked a turning point in history that brought liberation and celebration across Berlin.
The Western Wall
Known as the Wailing Wall for the prayers of Jewish faithful, the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City touches one of Judaism’s most sacred sites – the Temple Mount. As the sole remnant of the ancient wall supporting the Second Jewish Temple compound built by King Herod in 19 B.C. and destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D, the limestone wall has become a site of pilgrimage and veneration for Jews around the world.
Though only a portion of the original retaining wall supporting the elevated temple complex, the nearly 200-foot exposed Western Wall section took on spiritual significance following Jewish exile in the area. Visitors often write prayers on paper to insert into wall cracks, a tradition tied to the belief that the Divine Presence rests here.
The Peace Lines of Belfast
In stark contrast to Berlin’s divisive wall, Belfast’s Peace Lines were designed to keep warring factions in Northern Ireland apart following decades of sectarian violence. Starting in 1969, British authorities built over 60 barriers and fences separating Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods vulnerable to clashes.
While initial walls were makeshift and temporary, they soon evolved into complex series of high fences, concrete walls, and gates managed by British security forces. At points the Peace Lines reach up to 30 feet high and feature volatile interfaces kind as Northern Ireland grappled with “The Troubles” conflict.
Though negotiated peace agreements in 1998 brought increasing stability, most of Belfast’s Peace Lines remain in place due to lingering safety concerns and tensions. Calls have grown though to remove the alienating structures in coming years to help heal community divisions.
The Bulletproof Fence of the U.S. – Mexico Border
Immigration debates have intensified focus on security fences along the nearly 2,000-mile U.S.- Mexico border in recent decades. While disputed as either a protective barrier or failed symbol by partisan sides, segments of formidable border fencing have arisen along vulnerable areas of illegal border crossings.
Constructed in pieces since 1990 and expanded significantly starting with the 2006 Secure Fence Act, nearly 700 miles of varying border barriers now exist. Ranging from simple vehicle barriers to intricate steel and concrete fences up to 30 feet high, many Sections feature state-of-the-art surveillance, detection systems and bulletproof shielding like the bollard style fence in Calexico, California.
With illegal immigration a perpetual hot button issue, the border fence system continues evolving amid calls for both increased coverage and selective removal.
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The Seawall Along Galveston Island’s Gulf Coast
Not all famous fences serve a political or security purpose – some are integral infrastructure protecting landscapes themselves. Such is the case for Galveston Island’s roughly 10 mile seawall bordering vital Gulf Coast communities in Texas.
Constructed between 1902 and 1963 to shelter homes and industry, this curved concrete seawall stands 17 feet high and rises 20 feet out of the water. Its fortified design has successfully deflected numerous major hurricanes and tropical storms over the decades that likely would have devastated Galveston Island without this coastal barrier system.
Featuring an interlocking Tetrapod understructure for added resilience, Galveston’s seawall fence continues safeguarding a vulnerable shoreline community against rising seas and raging storms.
Fences Tie Together Human Divide and Unity
From the Great Wall of China to borders walls in Belfast or Berlin, fences have long reflected intertwined human themes of security, division and unity throughout history. While border barriers often highlighted in media ignite debates over immigration policy or cultural clashes, iconic fences also symbolize peace, cooperation, cultural heritage and protection against shared threats.
Ultimately fences spotlight our complex relationship with community identity and boundaries. As Galveston’s seawall shows, fences can provide critical safety. Yet walls segregating based on ethnic, religious or political difference – whether in Belfast or other sites globally – undermine social cohesion and shared interests over time, many argue.
Ongoing calls to remove separatist fences while still ensuring security highlight promising efforts worldwide to bridge sometimes painful divides going forward. Whether fences continue fortifying distinct territories or open passage between them, their future will no doubt be debated within ever-evolving cultural contexts and priorities.
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