Ten significant walls: the good, the bad and the ugly
E&T’s selection of 10 of the most interesting walls of various shapes and shades.
“Build bridges, not walls,” say campaigners against Donald Trump’s planned US-Mexico partition. The world’s walls have been undeniably contentious. Most, naturally, are about keeping people out or in, but there are other kinds too. Here’s E&T’s selection of 10 of the most interesting walls of various shapes and shades. Spoiler alert: we haven’t included the Great Wall of China, as it was just too obvious.
The Romans were partial to a good wall. Emperor Hadrian’s is one of the most significant examples of this facet of their engineering genius. The defensive and administrative barrier long marked the northernmost limit of their mighty civilisation and empire. Beyond it lived ‘the barbarians’. Though Hadrian’s successor as Emperor, Antoninus Pius, ordered the construction of another wall, the Antonine Wall, further north following an incursion into Scotland, that structure was later abandoned after a retreat. These days, Hadrian’s Wall is often invoked as rhetorical shorthand for political and cultural differences between the modern English and Scots. In fact, the wall is located entirely within England.
The Wailing Wall, which is also known as the Western Wall, is the sole surviving remnant of the sacred Second Temple of Jerusalem. The oldest parts of the structure date from the second century BC. After the temple was destroyed by the Romans, the wall became a focal point for Jewish prayer. The wall is considered to be the religion’s holiest site, with esteemed rabbis proclaiming that God’s presence “never departs from the Western Wall”. Visitors have long followed the tradition of inserting small slips of paper containing prayers into cracks in the wall, which is located directly in front of the Dome of the Rock, one of Islam’s holiest sites.
N.Ireland’s peace walls
Belfast’s ‘peace walls’ or ‘peace lines’ are constructed in iron, brick and steel. They slice through residential areas of the city, separating predominantly republican Catholic neighbourhoods from loyalist Protestant ones. These walls were built to reduce inter-community violence, although the Northern Ireland Executive has now committed to removing them by 2023. Much like Israel’s security wall and the notorious Berlin Wall that symbolised Cold War Europe, Belfast’s peace walls have been decorated with murals, political graffiti and propaganda posters. Union Jacks dominate the loyalist side, while the Irish tricolour is on display on the republican side.
This intentionally wonky structure is named after the sword of mythical King Arthur and is thought to be the tallest climbing wall of its kind anywhere in the world. The 45-tonne adventurers’ playground is supported by 36 beams and soars over 36m above the ground. Excalibur is part of the Bjoeks climbing facility in the town of Groningen in the Netherlands and curves approximately 10m out from its base, creating an artificial version of the overhang that climbers are likely to experience when dangling from the precipice of a natural cliff.
CfA2 Great Wall
It may not have the snappiest of names, but it does rank as probably the largest of our featured walls. Indeed, this ‘galaxy filament’ is one of the largest superstructures in the observable universe and is pulled together by gravitational fields, spreading across hundreds of millions of light years. These galaxy walls are also sometimes referred to as ‘supercluster complexes’ and ‘galaxy sheets’. Other examples of this phenomenon include the Hercules Supercluster and the Coma Wall.
The Seattle ‘Wall of Gum’ is somewhat optimistically spun as a piece of collective art, perhaps by authorities who don’t really know what to do about it. The phenomenon accumulated as the terminus for millions of wads of masticated chewing gum from people queueing outside the city’s Market Theatre over a period of two decades. The result is a colourful – if somewhat unhygienic – tourist attraction. The wall was given a deep clean two years ago by a local preservation agency to prevent the sugar in the gum from eroding the bricks. Twenty years’ worth of gum was painstakingly removed by the cleaners, but as soon as the job was finished people began adding more.
Israel’s security wall
An imposing monolith, visible from far and wide and extending over hundreds of miles in total, Israel’s security wall is a mixture of concrete barriers topped with razor wire, fences, watchtowers and ditches. Sometimes called the ‘separation fence’, the wall was built partly on occupied territory in the Palestinian West Bank. Israel’s government ordered its construction in the early 2000s after a string of terrorist attacks, and its supporters say it has achieved the aim of bolstering security. Opponents, however, brand it an ‘apartheid wall’ and say it has cut some Palestinians off from their agricultural land and curtailed freedom of movement. Though few would claim the wall is aesthetically pleasing, it has been customised on the Palestinian side through the application of graffiti murals, including work by celebrated street artist Banksy.
The epitome of social media frivolity, Facebook’s wall is one you can write on, and others can write on it too. Founder Mark Zuckerberg’s innovative wall concept allows users to post status updates (in the manner of self-involved post-modern flyposting) and receive messages. The wall also acts as a timeline, a kind of digital scrapbook, as well as a hub of information about you. All well and good, but with the emergence of hard-to-police dubious and/or illegal content, is the writing on the wall for Facebook?
Amid the carnage of the Second World War, Nazi Germany set about constructing an astonishingly ambitious system of defensive battlements stretching from the Spanish border to Scandinavia. Built over three years using a mixture of German civilian and slave labour, it became known as the Atlantic Wall. Its purpose was to defend Nazi-occupied Europe against the expected seaborne invasion by the Allied forces. Hitler’s totalitarian regime also constructed another internal wall along the German border, but despite the country’s engineering nous these fortifications ultimately proved eminently pregnable. Today, parts of the ghostly relics of the Nazi Atlantic Wall are being preserved by historical societies – despite others wishing to leave them to slip slowly into the sea.
Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall
This emotionally moving memorial wall in Washington DC has carved into it the names of the 58,300 American military personnel who were direct casualties of the war in Vietnam, including about 1,300 who are still considered ‘Missing In Action’, but officially classified as ‘Died, body not recovered’. The wall, which is made of black granite, extends partly into the ground, signifying death and mourning, according to the official website. It also rises above the surrounding terrain as “a symbol of life, hope and resurrection”.