Xi’an – a must see city in China
Another amazing place to visit in China is Xi’an; the home to the Terracotta Warriors. I first went to see the warriors in 1989 on my first visit to China and my second time was in 2010 with a friend whilst she was visiting me whilst I was studying Mandarin in Beijing. I do think two days is plenty of time sightseeing (the main sights in Xi’an) but am sure if you wanted to see areas that are not ‘touristy’ then a few more days would be good. I have friends who have caught a plane from Beijing to Xi’an at 6am and returned to Beijing on a 6pm flight from Xi’an…only really just to see the warriors.
On my second visit in 2010, my friend and I caught the plane from Beijing and had organised a driver and tour guide for the two days we were there. Since that time there is also a fast train which takes about five hours from Beijing; another friend did this and enjoyed it immensely. We stayed at the Bell Tower Hotel which, unsurprisingly, overlooks the Bell Tower and was a short walk under the road to the Drum Tower and Muslim Quarter. The Muslim Quarter is definitely worth walking through to see and smell the food and just to see different ethnicities in China. The hotel is reasonable but staff don’t speak English so if you don’t speak Chinese, you might need some phrases to help you find restaurants etc; there are better hotels in Xi’an (Novotel etc) but this hotel is so perfectly placed that I encouraged all my visitors to book and stay there. It’s reasonably priced and if you arrange, on-line, a room overlooking the Bell Tower – it just adds to the ambience.
Of course, it’s highly likely, the main reason you are in Xi’an is to see the warriors but there is much more to the city. Xi’an is one of the oldest cities in China and starting point of the Silk Road. But lets talk a little about the famous warriors first. They are spectacular. I think it is well-known that they were first found by a local farmer (who by the way works at the site signing tourist books) in 1974 as he was digging a well. So the army lay undisturbed for over 2000 years. Every warrior figure is different in facial feature and expression; how amazing is that!
Between 246-206 BC, First Emperor Qin ordered the creation of the terracotta army to be buried with him when he died. It is said he did so because he believed that the statues would become animated in the afterlife and it would be a show of his glory during his reign.
A place I really loved in Xi’an was the Great Mosque which is said to be one of the oldest, largest and best-preserved Islamic mosques in China. It’s only a short distance from the Drum Tower but my friend and I walked around for ages and could not find it. We did find what looked like a little Mosque with a blue roof so went inside and took photos of that, but we really did know that could not be the famous Mosque…Luckily we discussed wanting to visit the Great Mosque with our tour guide the next day and she made some enquiries and found it, after a bit of driving around. But looking at the next three photos perhaps you can see why we thought the first building was a Mosque and it was blue as well!!
When we arrived at the ‘real’ Great Mosque or colloquially called the ‘Blue Mosque’, it made us very happy that we had pursued finding it. Its architecture is a mixture of Islam and Chinese and according to historical records engraved on a stone tablet inside, it was built in 742 during the Tang Dynasty (618-907).
The mosque was a result of Islam being introduced into Northwest China by Arab merchants and travellers from Persia and Afghanistan during the mid-7th century when some of them settled down in China and married women of Han Nationality. Their descendants became the Muslims of today. Muslims played an important role in the unification of China during the Yuan and Ming Dynasties. Hence, other mosques were also built to honour them.
Another place we visited was the Wild Goose Pagoda which is across the road from a lovely park. The pagoda is a holy place for Buddhists and also built in the Tang Dynasty.
On the walls are engraved fine statues of Buddha by a renowned artist of the Tang Dynasty. The park surrounding the pagoda has huge bronze statues and the biggest musical fountain in Asia. The T-shape musical fountain and waterscape area covers an area of 15,000 sq metres and when the music starts, the central area of the square is full of different shapes of fountain sprays.
The bronze statues depict the Tang emperors, famous historical figures and historical heroes and are there to show the dominant achievements of the Tang Dynasty in religion, literature, art and technology.
The statues are set in what is called the Shaanxi Opera Garden. There we found huge coloured painted statues of famous Shaanxi opera writers and actors.
If you have time, it’s also worthwhile walking around the Drum Tower and the Bell Tower. The drums inside the Drum Tower were used to signal the running of time and on occasion were used as an alarm in emergency situations. The Bell Tower is wooden and stands on a brick base. It was built in 1384 by Emperor Zhu as a way to dominate the surrounding countryside and provide early warning of attack by rival rulers.
Then on our way to the airport we stopped at the Xi’an City Wall which was built to fortify the city. We only had time to hop out of the car and take some photos, but I have friends who have hired bicycles and ridden around the Wall…something I now wish I had done.
I think that ended my time in Xi’an and after a couple of days sightseeing, my friend and I returned to Beijing. But I do remember a story about my friend who is very pale skinned and makes a concerted effort to not go out into the sun so that she does not burn so in Xi’an she became a ‘rock star’ with tens of Chinese wanting to take a photograph with her; [the Chinese love pale skinned foreigners] some asking but others surreptitiously just sneaking a photo. We could only walk a few metres before she was photographed. It was very funny and she was very gracious to all those who asked for a photo.