History of Xi’an
Shopping in Xi'an
maps of Xi’an
2. Getting to Xi’an
Getting around Xi’an
3. Xi’an Sightseeing
Drum Tower, City walls, Big Wild Goose Pagoda, Shaanxi History Museum,…
4. Around Xi’an: The Terracotta Warriors
, Terracotta warriors pictures
5. Around Xi’an: Pandas, Huashan, Adventures
Xi’an (Western Peace), population three million, has served as China’s capital many times and at its peak it was described as the most prosperous city on the planet. These days, although the city is polluted, hot as an oven in summer and cold as a freezer in winter, it manages to remain one of China’s most attractive and charismatic destinations, gracefully blending its historic architecture with newer developments.
Although there’s plenty to see within the city and the surrounding region, the main reason visitors flock to Xi’an is to stare out over the unforgettable Terracotta Warriors which were discovered in 1974 in the district of Lintong, 20 miles outside of the city.
While the warriors deservedly attract the limelight, the city itself is certainly worth a visit in its own right and within its stunning early Ming dynasty walls you’ll find intact bell and drum towers, an ancient mosque and a fascinating Muslim quarter. Beyond the walls lies another host of sights, including impressive pagodas, one of the best museums in the country, the Shaanxi History Museum and, just a few miles to the east, Banpo is one of the best preserved examples of Yangshao Culture in China.
Farther to the east, Huashan is one of China’s five holy mountains – feasible as a day trip.
Xi’an is in Shaanxi province, which is famous as one of the regions where pandas still survive in the wild, and you can arrange trips to a panda reserve in the Qingling Mountains at Zhouzhi, two hours away. Culinary travelers will also find a feast awaits in Xi’an – the city is famous for its dumplings and there are plenty of opportunities to sample (and even make) them, while the Muslim quarter has outdoor treats aplenty.
Xi’an’s strategic location between the loess plateau to the north and east, and the Qingling mountains to the south have seen the city and its environs serve as China’s capital for 11 dynasties, starting with the Western Zhou dynasty (1122 to 771 BC), over 3,000 years ago.
A few hundred years later, the founder of the Qin dynasty (221-206 BC, see p. 6), Qin Shi Huang, chose Xianyang, a little north of the modern city, as the capital of his short-lived empire, and was buried 20 miles east of the city at Lintong, guarded by his secret, but now infamous Terracotta Warriors.
The succeeding Han (206 BC-220 AD) built a new capital not far from Xianyang, which they named Chang’an (Eternal Peace). The Han were one of China’s most successful dynasties and under its emperors Chang’an prospered from its position at the start of the Silk Road across Central Asia.
When the Han fell, Chang’an was ransacked and China fell into turmoil for the next 400 years. But Xi’an remained the favorite imperial residence and the brief Sui dynasty (581-618 AD) based itself here, as did the successive and more successful Tang dynasty (618-907 AD), which really breathed life into the city.
Under the Tang, Chang’an is said to have been the most populous and prosperous city in the world and the arts and religion thrived in the city. The Tang was a tolerant dynasty and, with the influx of influences coming along the Silk Road, Buddhism flourished while both Nestorianism and Islam gained a foothold and the Great Mosque was built. The tremendous wealth of the city also allowed for developments in the arts, notably the tri-color pottery still produced in the region today.
After the Tang
After the Tang, things went downhill for Xi’an and it never fully regained its former imperial splendor, although the city walls, bell and drum towers that you can see today were built during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). The city continued its decline, with occasional moments in the spotlight, such as the Empress Dowager Cixi’s forced relocation here and the kidnapping of Chiang Kaishek by his own forces at nearby Huaqing Pool in order to coerce an alliance with the Communists in what became known as the Xi’an Incident.
In 1974 Xi’an received an unexpected blessing – the discovery of Qin Shi Huang’s Terracotta Warriors 20 miles east of the city, near Lintong. The subsequent opening up of China to tourism has resulted in a new heyday for the city as one of China’s premier tourist destinations.
The combination of this new-found popularity and the city’s industrial background has made Xi’an a wealthy city and today the streets are lined with shoppers busy flexing their financial muscle. However, this prosperity has led to an influx of rural migrants seeking work day-by-day, or begging on the streets, and industry has contributed to severe pollution.
In spite of these problems, Xi’an remains an attractive and engaging city and its cosmopolitan blend of old and new continues to attract domestic and foreign tourists, while its manageable size and comparatively low cost of living have also made the city a popular place to study Chinese.
Shopping in Xi’an
Xi’an is a great place for shopping, new or old. While ever more new shopping malls spring up, markets provide for those who want to sightsee as they shop.
The Muslim markets, as they are known, run north along Beiyuanmen from the Drum Tower and along parallel Huajie Xiang, which leads to the Great Mosque. They incorporate everything from foods to souvenirs. This is a great place to pick up all the China souvenirs you want – from singing Mao lighters to kids’ toys, as well as “antique” items, although it can be difficult to determine authenticity. You’ll also see replica terracotta warriors here but, while they’re cheap, the quality is suspect.
Xi’an has a long artistic history and this is evident in the string of shops and stalls that run east along Shuyuanmen from the South Gate. Here you’ll find lots of calligraphy, scroll paintings and art equipment, including enormous paint-brushes; the market is a great place for a wander even if you’re not going to buy, and, since it’s on the way to the BeilinStoneTabletsMuseum (see p. 241) you can combine the two in a trip.
Likewise if you’re going to visit the Eight Immortals Temple, it’s worth heading there on a Wednesday or Sunday to take in the antiques market at its entrance. You’ll find all manner of goods, from genuine antiques to real bric-a-brac and the vendors themselves are often as interesting as the objects for sale.
It’s always difficult to ascertain authenticity, but there are still some great souvenirs. Qing dynasty opium pipes, busts of Chairman Mao, Taoist alchemy treatises, rusty old weapons, statues of Buddha and antique coins all sit incongruously next to one another.
See also Xi’an pictures
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