A relic boundary is a former boundary that is no longer in use but still visible as a relic on the ground. In human geography, we consider relic boundaries to be important cultural artifacts.
Some of the most famous examples of relic boundaries are the Great Wall of China and Hadrian’s Wall. Both walls were built to protect old, now defunct kingdoms from threats beyond the walls.
Relic Boundary Definition
Relic boundaries have three key features:
- They were human-made boundaries on the landscape
- They are no longer in use
- They are still visible on the landscape
These relics form some of the most precious and well-preserved cultural artifacts that show us the cultural and political histories of nations. Not only did they often mark the edge of a civilization, but their discontinuation is a monument to the changing cultural and political times of our ancestors.
For example, the fall of Hadrian’s wall is some of the greatest physical evidence of the decline of the Roman Empire, whose retreat from Britain meant the wall was no longer necessary.
Examples of Relic Boundaries
1. Great Wall of China
The Great Wall of China is perhaps the most famous relic boundary in the world. It is an ancient series of fortifications that was built to protect the Chinese Empire from invaders.
The wall stretches for over 13,000 miles across desert, mountains, and grasslands.
Despite its name, the Great Wall is not a single continuous wall but rather a series of walls and fortifications that were built at different times by different rulers.
The first sections of the Great Wall were built over 2,000 years ago during the Qin dynasty. However, the majority of the wall was constructed during the Ming dynasty in the 14th and 15th centuries.
The Great Wall fell into disuse after the fall of the Ming dynasty in 1644. In subsequent centuries, it became increasingly neglected and eroded by the elements.
Although it is often said to be visible from space, this is a myth; however, it is still an impressive sight. Today, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a popular tourist destination.
2. Hadrian’s Wall
Hadrian’s Wall was a defensive fortification built by the Roman Emperor Hadrian in 122 AD. It served to protect the northern edge of the Roman empire from the Celtic tribes to the north.
The wall was constructed out of stone and stretches for 73 miles from the east coast to the west coast of Britain.
It had a series of fortifications and watchtowers that were used to garrison troops, monitor traffic, and collect taxes.
After the Roman withdrawal from Britain in 410 AD, Hadrian’s Wall fell into disuse and was largely abandoned. Over the centuries, it became increasingly overgrown and eroded.
Today, Hadrian’s Wall is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a popular tourist destination.
3. Berlin Wall
The Berlin Wall was a concrete barrier and superimposed boundary erected by the German Democratic Republic (GDR, East Germany) to prevent the movement of people between East and West Berlin.
The wall was erected in August 1961 and extended for 155 kilometers (nearly 100 miles). It completely encircled West Berlin.
The wall included dozens of watchtowers manned by armed guards who had orders to shoot anyone attempting to climb the wall or cross into West Berlin.
The wall stood for nearly 28 years until its eventual fall in 1989 which signaled the collapse of Communist rule in Eastern Europe and the end of the Cold War.
After this date, the wall was redundant as a boundary, but became a template for graffiti art memorializing the years of separation between Germans.
4. Checkpoint Charlie
Checkpoint Charlie was a border crossing located in the city of Berlin, Germany. It was used by the East German and Soviet governments to monitor and control traffic between East and West Berlin. As it was put in place to separate two competing groups, it is also an example of a consequent boundary and subsequent boundary.
The checkpoint was first established in 1945 and saw its height of activity during the Cold War. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Checkpoint Charlie was abandoned because the land was now entirely controlled by a reunited democratic Germany. It remains in place to this day, however, and you can visit it as a tourist destination in Berlin to see where the democratic world ended and the communist world began.
5. Xi’an Walled City
Xi’an Walled City was a fortified city located in the modern-day province of Shaanxi, China. It was built by the Qin Dynasty in 210 BC and served as the capital of China for over two centuries.
The city had a population of over one million people at its peak.
But after the fall of the Qin Dynasty in 206 BC, the walls of the city were no longer necessary. However, the walls still remain relatively well intact and can be visited by tourists.
6. Carcassonne, France
Carcassonne, France is a fortified city located in the modern-day department of Aude, France. It was first built by the Visigoths in the 5th century AD and served as their capital.
The walled city was a large complex of walls, gates, and other fortifications that were used to garrison troops and protect the city from attack.
The walls represented the edge of the city, making them a relic boundary.
The city had a population of over 30,000 people at its peak.
But after the fall of the Visigothic Empire in 714 AD, the walls of the city were no longer necessary. However, many sections of the walls still remain intact.
7. Dubrovnik, Croatia
Dubrovnik, Croatia is a fortified city located in the modern-day country of Croatia. It was first built by the Byzantine Empire in the 7th century AD and served as their naval base.
After the fall of the Byzantine Empire in 1204 AD, the walls of the city were no longer necessary. However, the walls are still impressive and cut through the modern-day city.
In fact, the walls were even used to record scenes for the television series Game of Thrones.
8. Pingyao Walled City
The Pingyao Walled City was constructed over 2,700 years ago and has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The city covers an area of six square kilometers and is surrounded by a wall that is 12 meters high.
For centuries, the Pingyao Walled City was an important center of trade and commerce. Merchants from all over China came to the city to do business, and the city became known for its banks and financial institutions.
Today, the Pingyao Walled City is a popular tourist destination, and visitors can explore its many temples, palaces, and other historic sites.
The walls are a relic reminder of the edge of the city and the beginning of the unprotected lands beyond.
9. The Sumerians’ Amorite Wall
The Sumerians’ Amorite Wall is a relic boundary located in the modern-day country of Iraq. It was built by the Sumerian king Eannatum in 2450 BC to protect his kingdom from the Amorites.
The wall was made out of mud bricks and stretched for 18 miles from the city of Lagash to the city of Umma.
The wall was largely abandoned after the fall of the Sumerian Empire in 2000 BC. Over the centuries, it became increasingly overgrown and eroded.
10. The Great Wall of Gorgan
The Great Wall of Gorgan is a relic boundary located in the modern-day country of Iran. It was built by the Achaemenid king Darius I in 519 BC to protect his kingdom from the Scythian raiders.
The wall was made out of mud bricks and stretched for 100 miles from the city of Gorgan to the city of Hecatompylos.
The wall was abandoned after the fall of the Achaemenid Empire in 330 BC.
11. Hadrian’s Gate
Hadrian’s Gate is a relic boundary located in the modern-day city of Antakya, Turkey. It was built by the same Roman empower who built Hadrian’s wall, but on the very opposite side of his enormous empire.
The gate was built in 130 AD to commemorate the visit of Emperor Hadrian to the region. It served as the entrance to the city of Antakya and was flanked by two towers. Beyond the gate was the land outside of the control of the great Roman Empire.
Like Hadrian’s wall, the gate fell into disuse after the fall of the Roman Empire and was largely forgotten. Today, it is a popular tourist destination.
12. The Walls of Constantinople
The Walls of Constantinople are a series of defensive fortifications built by the Byzantine Emperor Constantine I in 324 AD. They served to protect the city of Constantinople from attack and marked the boundary of the city.
The walls were constructed out of stone and bricks and stretched for 9.5 miles from the Golden Horn to the Sea of Marmara.
They had a series of bastions, gates, and towers that were used to garrison troops and monitor traffic.
After the fall of the Byzantine Empire in 1453 AD, the walls fell into disuse and were abandoned.
13. Great Zimbabwe
Great Zimbabwe is a series of stone ruins located in the modern-day country of Zimbabwe. It is believed to be the site of the ancient capital of the Kingdom of Zimbabwe.
The ruins date back to the 11th century and are made up of a series of stone walls, towers, and other structures.
Great Zimbabwe was abandoned in the 15th century and its origins remain a mystery. Some scholars believe that it was built by the African kingdom of Mapungubwe, while others believe that it was built by the Indian traders who traveled through Africa.
Today, Great Zimbabwe is a popular tourist destination and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Read Next: Antecedent Boundary Examples
A relic boundary is a type of political boundary that is no longer necessary but still remains in place. These boundaries can be found all around the world in the form of walls, fences, and other fortifications.
Many of these relics have a rich history and are popular tourist destinations. They also serve as a reminder of the past and how the sovereign boundaries of our world has changed over time.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education.