Known as the ‘Eternal City’, Xi’an (pronounced She’ahn), has stood as a cultural and political centre of China for thousands of years. Located 700 miles south-west of Beijing in central China’s Yellow River Basin, north of the forested Quinling Mountains, Xi’an was the terminus for the historic ‘Silk Road’ trade route, which ran from Europe to Asia for over 2000 years. The city’s importance led emperors of the Zhou, Qin, Han and Tang dynasties to make Xi’an their capital, as it filled with people from all over the world. Today, Xi’an remains the capital of Shaanxi Province, and continues to command international attention, offering visitors a living record of centuries of Chinese civilisation.
The Terracotta Army
Xi’an’s most famous attraction – and one of the most important archaeological discoveries of the 20th century – is the breathtaking Terracotta Army. Part of the on-going excavations of the mausoleum of China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huang, the army comprises over 8000 life-size sculpted soldiers, horses and chariots arranged in military formation across several chambers. Assembled during the emperor’s reign in the 3rd century BC, each figure in the vast army is individually designed with detailed armour and weaponry – and even rank designations.
The Terracotta Army
Emperor Qin Shi Huang is regarded as China’s unifier and the Terracotta Army is thought to have been built to accompany the revered leader into the afterlife (although some argue the emperor was simply terrified of death). Whatever its purpose, the attention paid to the soldiers and their regalia is a testament to the drama and decadence of China’s imperial past – and the awe in which its rulers were held by their subjects. The Terracotta Army reinforces Xi’an’s significance in modern Chinese culture and is an unmissable part of any tour of the country.
Xi’an’s Other Attractions
An ideal stop on any tour of Xi’an is the ancient City Wall. Constructed for 14th century military purposes, the City Wall still exhibits plenty of the measures the defenders of Xi’an’s past took to protect their city, including a deep moat and robust battlements. Many of the buildings the wall originally protected still stand, including the imposing Bell and Drum Towers. Under the 14th century Ming Dynasty, Chinese cities regularly used towers like these to sound the time – and warn citizens of impending attacks.
Beyond Xi’an’s centre, visitors will find the Big Wild Goose Pagoda. At over 60 metres high, the ancient pagoda dominates the skyline and dates back to the 7th century Tang dynasty when it was used to collect Buddhist artefacts from across the world. Next door is the famed Shaanxi History Museum. The museum demonstrates why the province is considered the cradle of ancient Chinese civilisation, showcasing dozens of exhibitions dedicated to art, culture and millions of years of Chinese history.
Trips to Xi’an are packed with things to see and do but with so many wonders from China’s history on display, the city’s most exciting attraction is the opportunity for visitors to travel back in time.
Have you ever been to Xi’an? If so, what attraction was the highlight of your visit?