Xi’an (西安), the eternal city, is one of the best places to visit in China if you are a history buff and not simply because it is the home of the world famous Terra Cotta Soldiers. Called Chang’an in ancient times, Xi’an is one of the birthplaces of the ancient civilization in the Yellow River Basin area of the country.
During Xi’an’s 3,100 year development, 13 dynasties such as Western Zhou (11th century BC – 771 BC), Qin (221 BC – 206 BC), Western Han (206 BC – 24 AD) and Tang (618 – 907) placed their capitals here. Along with Athens, Cairo, and Rome, Xi’an is one of the four major ancient civilization capitals. The cultural and historical significance of the area, as well as the abundant relics and sites, make Xi’an a Natural History Museum. It also happens to be the burial site of my ancestors from the Han Dynasty!
Xi’an is the capital of Shaanxi province, located in the southern part of the Guanzhong Plain. With the Qinling Mountains to the south and the Weihe River to the north, it is surrounded by water and hills. The Bell Tower is the geographical center of Xi’an and the four main streets are respectively Dong Dajie, Xi Dajie, Nan Dajie and Bei Dajie which are also the main commercial streets.
In the city, there is the 3,000 year old Banpo Village Remains from the Neolithic Age (approximately from 8000 BC to 5000 BC), and the Forest of Stone Steles that holds 3,000 stone steles of different periods from the Han Dynasty to the Qing Dynasty. Around Xi’an, the Famen Temple enjoys the reputation of being the ‘forefather of pagodas and temples in Central Shaanxi,’ because it holds the finger bones of Sakyamuni — the founder of Buddhism. The natural landscape around Xi’an is also very picturesque as Mt. Huashan is one of the five best-known mountains in China. Traditional downtown Xi’an refers to the area encircled by the city wall, this has now been expanded to encompass the area within the second ring road (Er’ huan Lu).
Museum of Terracotta Warriors and Horses
The Museum of Terracotta Warriors and Horses is known by some as theeighth major miracle of the world, Mausoleum of Emperor Qin Shi Huang is listed on the World Heritage List, and the City Wall of the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644) is the largest and most intact Ming Dynasty castle in the world.
The Terracotta Army (兵马俑: literally “soldier and horse funerary statues”) or Terracotta Warriors and Horses is a collection of 8,099 life-size terra cotta figures of warriors and horses located near the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor (秦始皇陵). The figures were discovered in 1974 near Xi’an, Shaanxi province. The terracotta figures were buried with the first Emperor of Qin (Qin Shi Huangdi) in 210-209 BC. Their purpose was to protect the Emperor in the afterlife. Consequently, they are also sometimes referred to as “Qin’s Armies”.
The Terracotta Army was discovered in March 1974 by local farmers drilling a water well to the east of Mount Lishan. Mount Lishan is the name of the man-made necropolis of the First Emperor of the Qin Dynasty. This is also where the material to make the terracotta warriors was made, and found. Construction of this mausoleum began in 246 BC and is believed to have taken 700,000 workers and craftsmen 38 years to complete. Qin Shi Huangdi was interred inside the tomb complex upon his death in 210 BC. According to the Grand Historian Sima Qian, the First Emperor was buried alongside great amounts of treasure and objects of craftsmanship, as well as a scale replica of the universe complete with gemmed ceilings representing the cosmos, and flowing mercury representing the great earthly bodies of water. Pearls were also placed on the ceilings in the tomb to represent the stars and planets, etc. Recent scientific work at the site has shown high levels of mercury in the soil of Mount Lishan, tentatively indicating an accurate description of the site’s contents by Sima Qian.
The tomb of Qin Shi Huangdi is near an earthen pyramid 76 meters tall and nearly 350 meters square. The tomb presently remains unopened and unfound. There are plans to seal off the area around the tomb with a special tent-type structure to prevent corrosion from exposure to outside air. However, there is at present only one company in the world that makes these tents, and their largest model will not cover the site as needed. Qin Shi Huangdi’s necropolis complex was constructed to serve as an imperial compound or palace. It comprises several offices, halls and other structures and is surrounded by a wall with gateway entrances. The remains of the craftsmen working in the tomb may also be found within its confines, as it is believed they were sealed inside alive to keep them from divulging any secrets about its riches or entrance. It was only fitting, therefore, to have this compound protected by the massive terracotta army interred nearby.
Here is one of the most modern buildings I saw at the time that I visited (late 1990s). Probably now one of the oldest buildings. Its the Shaanxi Library.
Muslim Snack Street
Xi’an is also famous for food with Shaanxi snacks, Guangdong cuisine, and various foreign delicacies such as the Sichuan hot pot. Among all the delicacies, the most famous and popular one is the Muslim Snack Street. I ate some interesting lamb dishes here and it tasted pretty good.
Tang Dynasty Dinner Show
The night life in Xi’an is decent and I took in a traditional performance. I chose one called the Tang Dynasty Dinner Show and included traditional food and music. Definitely worth checking out. It was a cross between Chinese Opera and some acrobatics.