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The Walls We Build Around Us

May 6, 2008
Man has always had a fascination for walls. It doesn't matter what it is, or what they own, they have to put a wall round it. Whether it be their home, they're land, their cities - all have to have a wall constructed to keep people in and to keep other people out, to establish their boundaries.

Once they have these walls they then like to use wall coverings to make them look different to everybody else's walls. Wall coverings come in the form of plaster, paints, small stones and all manner of different substances that can be painted on in the name of protection.

Of course, look back in history and it is easy to see why people built walls. It was important for them to establish their boundaries and keep out marauding enemies from taking over their cities. Some countries took this to the extreme. Take China for instance. The Chinese built a wall covering over 4,000 miles and it was said to have taken the lives of two to three million Chinese men during construction.

Guarded by up to one million men at one point this great wonder of the world is made of stone and earth and has been around for thousands of years. Just as well they didn't need a specialised wall covering for this one then!

Jews take regular pilgrimages to the 'Wailing Wall'. This is an enormous section of an even more enormous wall covering approximately 1,600 feet. 187 feet of this wall are used as a place for Jews to pray as it is considered the closest permitted accessible site to the holiest spot in Judaism, the Foundation Stone. Slips of paper are put into the crevices on this wall covering it in what looks ticker tape. The Israeli Telephone Company even provide a fax service where they will insert faxed prayers into the wall for people that cannot physically get there.

This wall is said to have been built around 516 BCE by Herod The Great and consists of extremely large heavy stones some as large as 8 tonnes in weight. One stone in particular is estimated to weigh approximately 570 tonnes.

Both of these walls put to shame the only surviving British effort at age old walls. Hadrians Wall, covering 73.5 miles long and was built in an effort to keep the Scots out. And there we have it again, wall building to keep people out.

Of course, since the dawn of time people have constructed these walls as defence mechanism and then decorated them in an attempt to make them look beautiful. This consists of anything from the caveman depictions that told the story of the beginnings of mankind on the cave wall covering early man's home to the hieroglyphics of the Egyptian pyramids.

These days we are a little more basic with our need for wall coverings. Plaster is rendered onto most internal walls and this is then covered over further by paint or paper in a multitude of colours. Internal wall decoration is a huge part of interior design and fashions come and go.

External walls are also subject to different coverings but more to protect from the elements rather than to look fanciful although this is achieved sometimes. Plaster can be decoratively patterned and virtually any colour paint can now be used externally. There are numerous clear wall coverings that protect against the weather and these are subject to technology rather than fashions.
About the Author
Expert historian Catherine Harvey looks at the history of the wall covering UK and abroad.
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