Several important historical sites and cultural relics can be found in and around Xian, including the colossal Xian City Wall and moat, the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda, the Emperor Qin’s Mausoleum and the army of Terracotta Warriors and Horses.
About eight million people live in the city of Xian, the capital of Shaanxi province, located in the central-northwest region of China. Modern Xian is an important educational and cultural center, and one of the leading economic development clusters in China (see video above). Among the principal scientific and industrial activities in Xian are electronics, aerospace technology, high-tech products, automotive, foods and bio-pharmaceuticals.
Downtown Xian in a particularly hazy day. The image was taken from a spot near the South Gate (Yongning) of the Xian City Wall.
Xian is one of the oldest cities in China with about 3,000 years of history. Located at the eastern end of the “Silk Road”, the 6,500 km network of trade routes connecting Asia with Europe and areas of North and East Africa, the city grew to become the capital of Imperial China for over 1,000 years (211 BC – 907 AD). Around AD 750, Xian, at the time known a Changan, meaning the “City of Perpetual Peace", was the largest city in the world with over one million inhabitants.
Several important historical sites and cultural relics can be found in and around the city. The abundance of locations exhibiting well preserved remnants of historical and religious heritage makes Xian one of the most important tourist destinations in China.
Among the most remarkable places to see in Xian are the Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s Mausoleum and the army of Terracotta Warriors, one of the most extraordinary archaeological finds in history. For additional information on Emperor Qin’s necropolis and the incredible army of life-size warriors see here and here. Other interesting historical places worth visiting are the awe-inspiring Xian City Wall and the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda.
Open pits at the Emperor Qin Mausoleum showing some of the clay figures of over 8,000 soldiers of various ranks, 130 chariots and over 650 horses, plus bronze weapons and clay artifacts.
Xian City Wall
The Xian City Wall is, along with the wall of the Forbidden City in Beijing, one the most complete city walls remaining in China, and one of the largest ancient military defensive structures in the world. The construction of the wall started in the year 194 BC during the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD). The original wall was 25.7 km long enclosing an area of almost 36 square Km. It measured between 12 and 16 meters at the base, and the top was only two meters wide. It stood eight meters high and had an outside moat about six meters wide.
During the Tang Dynasty, (618 - 907) the moat was enlarged to 13 meters. Later on, during the rule of Zhu Yuanzhang, the first Emperor of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), the wall was further enlarged, creating the huge wall existing today which stands 12 meters tall, 15-18 meters thick at the base, and 12-14 meters wide at the top. Every 120 meters there is a rampart which extends out from the main wall. Each one of the 96 ramparts has a sentry building which allowed the soldiers to safely defend the entire wall. The current wall is 13.7 kilometers long with a deep moat surrounding it, although, in some areas, the moat has been covered and replaced by roads.
The massive structure includes four main gates, each bearing a traditional Chinese name: the East Gate is known as Changle (meaning Eternal Joy), the West Gate is named Anding (Harmony Peace), the South Gate is Yongning (Eternal Peace) and the North Gate is Anyuan (Forever Harmony).
Twelve-meter-wide top of the Xian City Wall. At the center, in the distance, are three of the 96 ramparts that served as sentry buildings for soldiers protecting the city from invaders.
The Giant Wild Goose Pagoda
The Giant Wild Goose Pagoda (also known as the Dayan Pagoda), is a relatively simple, but very large and well-preserved religious building. It is considered one of the symbols of the old city of Xian and one of the holiest places for Chinese Buddhists. It is located about four kilometers south of downtown Xian.
The original pagoda was built in 652 during the reign of Emperor Gaozong of the Tang Dynasty (628 – 683). Its original purpose was to enshrine Buddhist relics including figures and scriptures brought from India by the Buddhist monk Xuanzang, a scholar, traveler and translator who, at his return from his travels in India and during the remainder of his lifetime, translated just a portion of the Sanskrit texts. However, he was able to assemble a team of about 50 assistants to undertake the immense task of translating over 1,300 fascicles of scriptures of Buddhist sutras (expositions of ritual procedures, describing the Indian philosophical and religious systems) from Sanskrit into Chinese. This is one of the most important translation efforts of religious texts in history and was highly significant in the expansion of Buddhism from India to China and subsequently to Japan.
Guarding lions on each side of the stately staircase function as talismans protecting the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda in Xian.
The original building had five stories and a height of 54 meters. Five additional stories were added in the year 704. The great earthquake of 1556 in the Shaanxi province, one of the deadliest earthquakes on record killing approximately 830,000 people, destroyed half of the Giant Pagoda. During the Ming Dynasty, the pagoda was repaired and two floors were added leaving the building with seven stories and a height of 64.5 meters. The building leans noticeably, by several degrees, to the west. Built of brick, the structure is deemed very solid. Inside the pagoda, there are stairs that visitors can climb to appreciate views of the city from the arch-shaped doors on each side of every story.