The Grand Canal in China is the largest man-made canal in the world, eclipsing the Suez Canal and the Panama Canal. It once ran from Hangzhou all the way to Beijing, covering a stunning 1,115 miles (1,794 km). The canal played a vital role in Chinese history, not just as a trade route for the transportation of foods and goods, but also as a military asset, and an important cultural and economic link between the north and the south of the country. Unfortunately, today the only the section of this 2,000 year old waterway that is still functioning and navigable is the route from Hangzhou to Jining. The Grand Canal was built section by section over many centuries but the majority of it was developed during the Sui Dynasty, around the 7th century, as a major transportation development. Today it is used mainly for water diversion and tourism. Boat trips along the Grand Canal are a popular way to see scenic river towns in southern China, with many beautiful views and some attractive bridges and old buildings on the riverbanks. It is also lovely to walk or cycle along the canal through central Hangzhou.