Since the staging of the Olympics in London last August a collection photographs of the Great Wall of China has been doing rounds of exhibition spaces in London and beyond. The exhibition, The Great Wall – Photographs Then and Now, has just opened in Hexam Abbey. And remember, Hexam Abbey was built with stone from Hadrian’s Wall. It is no coincidence the exhibition has ended up in Hadrian’s Wall Country.

The Great Wall of China

The Great Wall of China at Mutianyu.

The exhibition has 140 photographs of the Great Wall of China (read a review on the British Photographic History website), taken by both Chinese and Western archaeologists, geographers and tourists over the last 140 years, since the 1880s and the invention of the camera. Also included in the exhibition are photographs of Hadrian’s Wall, more specifically Housesteads Crags and Castle Nick.

One of China’s leading media companies, Phoenix Publishing and Media Group (PPMG), are the sponsors behind this photographic exhibition. And in July last year, PPMG’s chairman visited Hadrian’s Wall along with Linda Tuttiett, chief executive of the Hadrian’s Wall Trust. Together they signed a memorandum of agreement.

“Working together with PPMG we hope to raise awareness of the sites with new audiences across the world and help realise their potential to contribute to local communities through sustainable tourism development. Future collaboration between PPMG and the Hadrian’s Wall Trust will include tourism, conference and publishing projects.”

Linda Tuttiett, chief executive of the Hadrian’s Wall Trust

Although greatly different in their setting and scale, the Great Wall of China and Hadrian’s Wall were both similarly significant frontiers in their respective lands and times. And both have been on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites for 25 years, having been inscribed in 1987. These two Walls then make an understandable alliance. Just as towns that are twinned create commercial and cultural ties between the two communities, the idea of bringing together archaeological sites to create closer cooperation between researchers and heritage managers can only be applauded.

For now, the Great Wall exhibition is at Hexam Abbey: entry is free and it is open every day from 9.30 in the morning to 5 in the evening. The exhibition ends 12 February 2013, after which it will move on to other venues along Hadrian’s Wall throughout 2013.

Milecastle 39 along Hadrian's Wall

Milecastle 39 on Hadrian’s Wall