Xi’an, China

Millions of visitors come to Xi’an, China to marvel at the Terracotta Warriors in the Quin Shi Huang Mausoleum. Then, they become enthralled by the fascinating sites created by Imperial Dynasties for over 2,000 years encircled by the world’s largest city wall.

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Historical Introduction to Xi’an, China

Xi’an is one of China’s oldest cities. Archeological evidence suggests the area was populated over a half million years ago. Xi’an is also one of the Four Great Ancient Capitals of China. In approximately 1051 BC, this became the twin cities of Feng and Hao, the capital of Western Zhou. After King Nan of Zhou was deposed by the Qin dynasty, Emperor Qin Shi Huang created his Western Han capital here in 221 BC. He named it Chang’an meaning Perpetual Peace. For nearly 1,600 years, successive dynasties gave the city their own name. Finally, in 1369, the Ming dynasty called it Xi’an (Western Peace). For over 2,000 years, the city experience cycles of prosperity and decline. Much of its success was due to being the eastern terminus for the Silk Road, a major trade route from the 2nd century BC until the 18th century. Today, this capital city of Shaanxi Province has a metro population of nearly 13 million Han Chinese. Their economy is booming thanks to strong manufacturing and service industries. Tourism is a major contributor. About 40 million domestic and foreign visitors arrive each year to explore the historical sites created by 13 dynasties. One of them is the Xi’an City Wall shown here at night.

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1 First Marvelous View of Qin Shi Huang Mausoleum in Xi’an, China

A major bucket list destination for millions of people worldwide – and always ranked among China’s top three tourist attractions – is the Qin Shi Huang Mausoleum. Regardless of how many photos you have seen, your first glance of the Terracotta Army is a sensational experience. This incredible UNESCO World Heritage Site from the early 3rd century BC is located in the Lintong District about 22 miles north of central Xi’an.

Qin Shi Huang Mausoleum, Lintong District, Xi’an, Shanxi, China 710612
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2 Description of Qin Shi Huang Mausoleum in Xi’an, China

Construction of the final resting place for Zheng began in 246 BC shortly after he became the King of Qin at the age of 13. In 221 BC, he defeated the last of China’s Warring States and was renamed Qin Shi Huang. During his eleven-year reign as the First Emperor of Qin (and China), approximately 700,000 men labored over his mausoleum. The project was finished in 208 BC, two years after the emperor’s death. The measurements are staggering. At the center is an unexcavated mound shaped like a 250 foot tall subterranean pyramid. Encircling the emperor’s tomb underground are a 1.5 mile inner city and a 3.9 mile outer city. Their design resembles Xianyang, the capital of the Qin dynasty. Archeologists estimate there are 600 burial sites within the surrounding 35 square miles. They contain the bodies of the royal family, government officials, high-ranking army members, concubines and mausoleum laborers. The impressive Terracotta Army seen in Pit Number One are only a fraction of this enormous complex. Simultaneous to the construction of the mausoleum, Qin Shi Huang ordered a massive extension of a defense along China’s northern border. The 10,000-li Great Wall stretched for over 3,100 miles.

Qin Shi Huang Mausoleum, Lintong District, Xi’an, Shanxi, China 710612
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3 Terracotta Warriors at Qin Shi Huang Mausoleum in Xi’an, China

Approximately 8,000 Terracotta Warriors have been unearthed so far within three pits at the Qin Shi Huang Mausoleum. The largest collection is in Pit Number One measuring 3.5 acres. 2,000 pottery soldiers stand in 38 columns of battle formation. They weigh 300 to 400 pounds despite being hollow inside. Each life-size figure has unique facial features. Some historians speculate the warriors may have been modeled after real people. Represented in the army are foot soldiers, cavalrymen, archers, chariot drivers, officers and military commanders. Many were discovered still clutching authentic metallic weapons such as crossbows, spears, swords and axes. The burial pits also contained about 520 horses and 130 chariots.

Qin Shi Huang Mausoleum, Lintong District, Xi’an, Shanxi, China 710612
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4 Excavation History of Qin Shi Huang Mausoleum in Xi’an, China

The Qin Shi Huang Mausoleum was accidentally discovered in 1974 by Yang Zhifa and his brothers while drilling a well. When the peasant farmers began selling arrowheads for pocket change, the relics came to the attention of a cultural center who alerted archeologists. Their professional excavation unearthed Pit Number One later in the year and two more in 1976. Three years later, the Museum of the Terracotta Army opened. By 2008, six hundred additional pits had been identified. Although exploration continues, the decision has been made not to unearth too many artifacts because they quickly lose their coloring upon oxidation. Yet sophisticated ground surveying is being used on the mound containing the emperor’s tomb. In 2012, these techniques identified a 42 acre subterranean palace surrounded by a 13 foot high brick wall. There is also speculation about a river of mercury flowing through the ancient site.

Qin Shi Huang Mausoleum, Lintong District, Xi’an, Shanxi, China 710612
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5 General at Qin Shi Huang Mausoleum in Xi’an, China

After marveling at the impressive terracotta figures in the three pits at Qin Shi Huang Mausoleum, your next stop is Exhibition Hall. This is your chance to inspect a huge array of artifacts behind protective glass. Among the exhibits are samples of each type of soldier, animal, weapon and vehicle uncovered during excavation. This clay figure represents a general, one of seven unearthed to date. The highest-ranking officer is wearing armor decorated with eight knotted ribbons over a double-layered robe.

Qin Shi Huang Mausoleum, Lintong District, Xi’an, Shanxi, China 710612
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6 Kneeling Archer at Qin Shi Huang Mausoleum in Xi’an, China

160 kneeling archers were discovered in Pit Number Two. This is one of them displayed at the Exhibition Hall. Over two millenniums ago, this infantryman would have carried a crossbow. Many of the exhibits have a brief description in Chinese and English. Yet it is helpful to be accompanied by an educated guide who can provide additional insights. For example, all of the Terracotta Warriors have hair buns tied to the right. The archer’s bun faces the opposite direction so he could reach the arrows in the quiver on his back.

Qin Shi Huang Mausoleum, Lintong District, Xi’an, Shanxi, China 710612
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7 Chariot at Qin Shi Huang Mausoleum in Xi’an, China

One of the most impressive exhibits at the Exhibition Hall at the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor is this bronze chariot led by four horses. Historians speculate this Qin dynasty vehicle was designed to carry the emperor into the afterlife.

Qin Shi Huang Mausoleum, Lintong District, Xi’an, Shanxi, China 710612
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8 Terracotta Warriors and Lacquer Furniture Factory in Xi’an, China

If you were fascinated by the Terracotta Army you saw at the Qin Shi Huang Mausoleum, you might want to take home a facsimile as a souvenir. A great place to shop is the state-run Xi’an Daqin Terracotta Warriors & Lacquer Furniture Art Factory. Their warrior selection ranges from trinkets to full-size replicas. If you have plenty of Chinese yuan burning a hole in your wallet, you can custom order a warrior featuring your face and head. As you watch the artisans sculpt the soldiers, you get a better appreciation of the time required to create over 8,000 of them at the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor.

Qinling North Road, Lintong District, Xi'an 710600, China
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9 Qin Shi Huang Monument in Xi’an, China

Less than a block from the terracotta factory is this enormous sculpted monument. On top is an emperor and his general commanding a cavalry. Based on the proximity to the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor, this is a tribute to Qin Shi Huang. Born as Ying Zheng, he became King of Qin in 246 BC at the age of 13. In 230 BC, he launched the Qin’s wars of unification. Within seven years, his army defeated the six major Chinese states. After the last Warring State fell in 221 BC, he declared himself to be Qin Shi Huang. This means the First Emperor of Qin. His reign over the Qin dynasty lasted only eleven years until he died in 210 BC at the age of 49.

Qintang Ave, Lintong Qu, Xian Shi, Shaanxi Sheng, China
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10 Overview of Xi’an City Wall in Xi’an, China

Most of Xi’an’s historic attractions are contained within a fortification dating back to the Ming dynasty (1368 – 1644). Not only is the age impressive but so is the size. The Xi’an City Wall is rectangular and stretches for 8.5 miles. Encircling it is a moat measuring 59 feet across and 20 feet deep. The stone curtainwall is an incredible 50 to 60 feet wide at the base. This upper platform (parapet) averages more than 40 feet across. In short, you are standing on China’s best city wall and also the largest one in the world. These buildings are two of the 98 ramparts atop the wall. They are positioned 390 feet apart. This was the perfect distance for archers to crossfire at the enemy.

Changle Gate, East St, Zhong Lou Shang Quan, Beilin Qu, Xian Shi, Shaanxi Sheng, China
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11 History of Xi’an City Wall in Xi’an, China

This area has a 2,200 year history of being encircled by walls. The first was built in 194 BC during the Han dynasty (202 BC – 220 AD). The defense protected the former Changle Palace. It was the world’s largest palace (1,200 acres) before being destroyed. In the Tang dynasty (618-907), a 16 mile wall was erected around their capital city of Chang’an. This citadel served several dynasties until Zhu Yuanzhang founded the Ming dynasty in 1368. At the start of his 30 year reign, Hongwu Emperor ordered a new, stronger wall be constructed on the crumbling foundations. The project required eight years of labor. Subsequent enhancements and restorations occurred during the 16th, 18th and 20th centuries. The ancient fortification survived the Revolution of 1911 and Japanese air raids during World War II. In 1961, the historic landmark became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is the northeast watch tower, one of four at the corners of the Xi’an City Wall. There are 24 smaller, two-level watch towers positioned along the ramparts.

Changle Gate, East St, Zhong Lou Shang Quan, Beilin Qu, Xian Shi, Shaanxi Sheng, China
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12 East Gate of Xi’an City Wall in Xi’an, China

The Xi’an City Wall has four main gates. They each had three sections. Along the outer wall was an archery tower. As the name implies, this first line of defense could produce a shower of arrows from 66 slits. Assuming an enemy breached the entrance, they would rush into a wide courtyard. Not a good place to be! Now they suffered an aerial attack 105 feet above their head from both the archery tower behind them and this gate tower in front. The East Gate is named Changle meaning Eternal Joy. It was built in 1378 during the Ming dynasty.

Changle Gate, East St, Zhong Lou Shang Quan, Beilin Qu, Xian Shi, Shaanxi Sheng, China
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13 Alarm Bell at East Gate of Xi’an City Wall in Xi’an, China

During the Imperial Dynasties (from 221 BC until 1912), bells were used to announce the start of each business day, convey the time and send messages. The bells along the Xi’an City Wall were used to sound an alarm. This bell has hung at the Changle Gate (East Gate) since being cast in 1567 during the Ming dynasty. It measures five feet tall with a diameter of nearly four feet.

Changle Gate, East St, Zhong Lou Shang Quan, Beilin Qu, Xian Shi, Shaanxi Sheng, China
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14 Exploring Xi’an City Wall in Xi’an, China

Exploring the City Wall is the second most popular activity in Xi’an (number one is the Terracotta Warriors). Most people opt to walk along the top to see the various defense structures while enjoying the city views. If you are ambitious, schedule four hours to stroll the 8.5 miles. Another option is to rent a bicycle. Plan on cycling for a couple of hours. You can also opt to tour on a golf cart available at the South Gate.

Changle Gate, East St, Zhong Lou Shang Quan, Beilin Qu, Xian Shi, Shaanxi Sheng, China
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15 Gateway into Yongxingfang Food Court in Xi’an, China

If you are an avid foodie, then watch for this vibrant Chinese gateway (called a paifang) just inside of Zhongshan Gate (East Gate). On the other side is Jingjian Square. This marks the beginning of an acre of restaurants, food courts and snack kiosks serving a wide spectrum of cuisine from across Shaanxi Province. You will also get a taste of local culture at an opera plus the Shaanxi Intangible Cultural Heritage Museum. In addition, there are plenty of shops with items created by Shaanxi artisans.

Yongxingfang, Xinjie St, Zhong Lou Shang Quan, Xincheng Qu, Xian Shi, Shaanxi Sheng, China
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16 Best Food Selections at Yongxingfang Food Court in Xi’an, China

If you are inherently indecisive, you may be challenged making a selection at the Yongxingfang Food Court. The reason? There are a lot of food vendors. The menus offered by each is unique because of a government regulation. So, the choices seem endless. Some delicious items to consider include: Roujiamo (Chinese hamburger), Feng Mi Zong Zi (Honey Glutinous Rice), Rou Jia Mo (Shaanxi Sandwich), Qinzhen Mipi (steamed noodles) or Qishan Saozimian (noodles on pork soup). For dessert try Jingyang Pebble Baked Cake. A fun experience is the Liquan Rice Wine Wheat store. The wine is served in a clay mug. When finished, you smash the mug into a hug pile of shards.

Yongxingfang, Xinjie St, Zhong Lou Shang Quan, Xincheng Qu, Xian Shi, Shaanxi Sheng, China
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17 Historic People’s Grand Hotel in Xi’an, China

The People’s Republic of China was established in 1949 by the Communist Party of China. One of the first magnificent luxury hotels in China during the early stage of this era was Renmin Dasha. After opening in 1953, the government-run complex was the only accommodations available to foreigner dignitaries visiting Xi’an. The building designed by architect Hong Qing features flower motifs and a nine-story central dome. This made it the city’s second tallest structure at the time. The property also included the Grand Theatre. Everything was lavishly appointed. After a major renovation, the historic property reopened in 2014 as the People’s Grand Hotel managed by Sofitel Legend. A five-star rating does not begin to do justice to this 71 suite hotel. Many people consider this to be Xi’an’s premiere hotel.

319 Xinjie St, Zhong Lou Shang Quan, Xincheng Qu, Xian Shi, Shaanxi Sheng, China, 710005
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18 Lowering of Flag Ceremony in Xi’an, China

An unpublicized event worth attending near sunset is the lower of the flag at the Shaanxi Provincial Government Building. It is engaging watching the stern-faced, highly-disciplined honor guard of the People’s Liberation Army as they march in strict formation. Xi’an is the capital city of Shaanxi Province. Approximately 37 million people live within the province’s 79,151 square miles. The governor is the highest-ranking officer of the People’s Government of Shaanxi. Across the street from the provincial building is Xincheng Square. This is a delightful park catering to families with children.

Shaanxi People's Government, Zhonglou Shangquan, Xincheng, Xi'an, China
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19 South Gate of Xi’an City Wall in Xi’an, China

South Gate is the most impressive of the four city gates. It is also the oldest, originally built in 582 during the Sui dynasty. Enhancements and enlargements were made by subsequent dynasties for nearly 1,000 years. The Chinese name since the Ming dynasty is Yongning meaning Eternal Peace. This is where the guests of emperors were greeted for centuries. In front is the 7.9 acre South Gate Square. South Gate provides the best access to the Beilin Museum (Stele Forest), Bell Tower and Drum Tower.

South Gate, Huancheng South Rd West Section, Zhong Lou Shang Quan, Beilin Qu, Xian Shi, Shaanxi Sheng, China
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20 Entrance to Stele Forest in Xi’an, China

The Forest of Stone Steles is fascinating. The complex houses over 10,000 artifacts including historic carved steles (tablets). The attraction is also called the Beilin Museum. The property was constructed as the Xi’an Confucius Temple in 1087 during the Northern Song dynasty (960 – 1127). The entrance to the Key Heritage Site is east of South Gate and just inside of Wenchang Gate.

15 Sanxue St, Zhong Lou Shang Quan, Beilin Qu, Xian Shi, Shaanxi Sheng, China
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21 Halberd Gate at Stele Forest in Xi’an, China

Stele Forest has a long, rectangular shape. Within 7.5 acres are about 24 pavilions and halls. They are divided into two sections. The first part is beyond the Halberd Gate. This area has six nearly identical pavilions and is the remnants of the 11th century Confucius Temple. The second section of Beilin Museum houses thousands of ancient stone tables (steles), the largest collection in China.

15 Sanxue St, Zhong Lou Shang Quan, Beilin Qu, Xian Shi, Shaanxi Sheng, China
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22 Jingyun Bell at Stele Forest in Xi’an, China

In the first half of Stele Forest are two notable displays. This is Jingyun Bell. The name stems from when it was cast in 711 during the Jingyun Period of the Tang dynasty. Among the decorations etched into this six-ton bell are a lion, cow, and crane. Also visible are inscriptions written by Emperor Ruizong. He ruled the Tang dynasty twice: in 684 to 690 and again in 710 to 712. The Jingyun Bell hung in the famous Bell Tower during the Ming dynasty. On the north side of the courtyard is a stone horse carved between 407 to 431.

15 Sanxue St, Zhong Lou Shang Quan, Beilin Qu, Xian Shi, Shaanxi Sheng, China
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23 Xiaojing Pavilion at Stele Forest in Xi’an, China

The second section of the Stele Forest (Beilin Museum) begins at the Xiaojing Pavilion. Inside of this structure is the Stone Tablet of Classic Filial Piety (Xiaojing in Chinese). The text was created in 745 during the Tianboa Period of the Tang dynasty at the request of Emperor Xuanzong (reign 713 – 756). The four blocks of stones record a conversation between Confucius and a student named Zengzi, one of the Four Sages of Confucianism. The teachings explain how to respect one’s parents, elders and ancestors. Behind this pavilion are seven halls containing over 3,000 steles. The collection represents well-preserved etched tablets primarily from the Tang (618 – 907), Song (960 – 1279) and Qing (1636 – 1912) dynasties. The most famous are the Stone Classics of the Kaicheng Period created in 837. They represent 12 of the Thirteen Confucian Classics.

15 Sanxue St, Zhong Lou Shang Quan, Beilin Qu, Xian Shi, Shaanxi Sheng, China
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24 Bell Tower of Xi’an in Xi’an, China

The epicenter of the walled-in city is the Bell Tower of Xi’an. The two-level, wooden observation structure was originally built in 1384 based on the orders of Hongwu Emperor, the founder of the Ming dynasty. The tower is 118 feet tall and is positioned on a 116 foot high brick platform. This elevation gave sentries a commanding view of Chang’an (the name of the capital city) plus the land outside of the walls. In 1582, the Xi’an Bell Tower was moved 3,280 feet to its current position. Since then, the iconic building has been rebuilt and refurbished several times. On the far left is a 6.5 ton bell. It was rung each morning to announce the start of each business day and at other scheduled times. Above the bell are three levels of green glazed tiles. On top is a decorative knob covered with gold platinum. Access to the historic site is through a pedestrian subway.

Bell Tower, Zhonglou Shangquan, Beilin, Xi'an, China
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25 Drum Tower of Xi’an in Xi’an, China

About 800 feet from the Bell Tower is the Drum Tower of Xi’an. It was built in 1380, four years before its sibling. Interestingly, no nails were used during construction. The wooden structure is 112 feet high and measures 172 feet on two sides and 124 feet on the other two. On the first level is a massive 1.5 ton drum, currently the largest in China. During the Ming and Qing dynasties, a similar drum would echo through the city on the hour. Just before sunset, it would be slowly beat 200 times. Afterwards, all city gates would close until morning. If you would like to learn more about Chinese drums, you will enjoy the museum inside of the Drum Tower. On top of the tower is a great observation platform.

Beiyuanmen, Bei Yuan Men Xiao Chi Yi Tiao Jie, Lianhu Qu, Xian Shi, Shaanxi Sheng, China
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26 Crowd Exploring the Muslim Quarter in Xi’an, China

Approximately 20,000 Chinese Muslims live in the Muslim Quarter. This neighborhood in the Lianhu district bustles with activity from the daily influx of domestic and foreign visitors. The narrow alleys are filled with small stores and aromas from every imaginable food. Especially popular is the Beiyuanmen Muslim Food Street adjacent to the Drum Tower. There are so many options to tantalize your taste buds. Among the specialties are charcoal-grilled meats such as lamb, beef and chicken. Other concoctions feature noodles, dumplings, pancakes cabbage, stew and/or rice. There are over 300 types of food offered in the Muslim Quarter. So, bring your appetite.

124 Beiyuanmen, Bei Yuan Men Xiao Chi Yi Tiao Jie, Lianhu Qu, Xian Shi, Shaanxi Sheng, China
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27 Covered Bazaar in Muslim Quarter in Xi’an, China

Another cultural experience awaiting you at the Muslim Quarter is the covered bazaar. Beneath the canopy are rows of merchant stalls. Do not expect to find premium merchandise here. Most of the tables, bins, baskets and hangers are filled with souvenir-quality products. You may find something to bring home as a reminder of your trip to Xi’an. But be prepared to haggle over price or you will definitely pay too much.

165 Beiyuanmen, Zhong Lou Shang Quan, Lianhu Qu, Xian Shi, Shaanxi Sheng, China
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28 Chinese Gateway at Great Mosque of Xi’an, China

The biggest place of Muslim worship in China is the Great Mosque of Xi’an. Other names are the Huajue Mosque or the East Great Mosque. This is the heart of the Muslim Quarter. There are 25 structures within three acres. The complex is shaped as a long rectangle aligned east to west. The architecture is a unique blend of Islamic and Chinese. This 29.5 foot gateway welcomes you to the first courtyard. The wooden paifang with glazed tiles was constructed in the 17th century during the Qing dynasty. Below is a carving of dragons playing with a pearl. They represent God and the emperor plus are a symbol of good luck.

Great Mosque, Huajue Alley, Zhong Lou Shang Quan, Lianhu Qu, Xian Shi, Shaanxi Sheng, China, 710001
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29 Stone Arch at Great Mosque of Xi’an, China

Many of the ancestors of the 60,000 Muslims living in Xi’an today arrived during the Tang dynasty (618 to 907 AD) via the Silk Road as travelers and merchants. This ethnic group is named Hui. They speak Chinese yet follow Islamic traditions. They founded the Great Mosque in 742 AD. Most of the buildings you will explore were constructed during the 14th century. This Stone Arch in the second courtyard is from the Ming dynasty. Flanking it are two tall stelas. One of the carved stones features calligraphy from the Song dynasty (960 – 1279). The other tablet was created during the Ming dynasty (1368 – 1644).

Great Mosque, Huajue Alley, Zhong Lou Shang Quan, Lianhu Qu, Xian Shi, Shaanxi Sheng, China, 710001
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30 Minaret at Great Mosque of Xi’an, China

A common feature in every mosque is a minaret. The Great Mosque of Xi’an is no exception. However, the Examining the Heart Tower is considerably shorter than a typical minaret. Another difference is the three-tier pagoda shape versus the traditional slender tower. Shengxinlou (Chinese name) is in the third courtyard named the Place of Meditation. The minaret is sometimes called the Pavilion for Introspection (Xing Xin Ting).

Great Mosque, Huajue Alley, Zhong Lou Shang Quan, Lianhu Qu, Xian Shi, Shaanxi Sheng, China, 710001
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31 Phoenix Pavilion at Great Mosque of Xi’an, China

The fourth courtyard of the Great Mosque features the Phoenix Pavilion shown here. On the opposite side is the Prayer Hall. The 14,000 square foot, wooden hall consists of three connected structures. It can accommodate up to 1,000 worshipers. Prayer services are conducted five times a day. You must be Muslim to enter. There are nine other mosques in the city. Yet none compare to the Great Mosque of Xi’an.

Great Mosque, Huajue Alley, Zhong Lou Shang Quan, Lianhu Qu, Xian Shi, Shaanxi Sheng, China, 710001
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32 Tang Dynasty Show at Shanxi Grand Opera House in Xi’an, China

A spectacular dinner show you are bound to enjoy is conducted at the Shanxi Grand Opera House every evening. The Shaanxi Provincial Song & Dance Troupe portray the majesty and pageantry of the Tang dynasty (618-907) through enchanting music and dance. This scene depicts the emperor encircled by his consort, court officials and ladies in waiting. The Melody of the Emperor’s Longevity is accompanied by traditional music of the era.

161 Wenyi N Rd, Yan Ta I T Shang Quan, Beilin Qu, Xian Shi, Shaanxi Sheng, China
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33 White Ramie Cloth Dance at Shanxi Grand Opera House in Xi’an, China

These beautiful women are performing the White Ramie Cloth Costume Dance. The name is derived from the silky fabric they are wearing. The ramie cloth was created during the Qin dynasty (221 – 206 BC). The graceful dance movements were introduced during the Western Jin dynasty (265-316) and popularized during the Tang dynasty. Their long white sleeves flow and sway in elegant arches during the choreographed folk dance.

161 Wenyi N Rd, Yan Ta I T Shang Quan, Beilin Qu, Xian Shi, Shaanxi Sheng, China
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34 Shaanxi History Museum in Xi’an, China

The Shaanxi History Museum has an extensive collection of over 350,000 artifacts from ruling dynasties in the province dating back to the Western Zhou dynasty (1050–771 BC). Several relics are pre-historic. This is China’s first state-operated, national museum. The exhibition space encompasses more than 2.7 acres. The complex consists of three buildings, all designed similar to the Tang dynasty. This is the main exhibition hall.

91 East XiaoZhai Road, Xi'an, Shaanxi Province, China
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35 Terracotta Warriors at Shaanxi History Museum in Xi’an, China

Everything displayed in Exhibition Hall Number One of the Shaanxi History Museum is 2,000 to one million years old. Of course, this time period must include terracotta warriors and horses from the Qin Shi Huang Mausoleum. He reigned from 247 BC – 221 BC. Other exhibits in this hall explain the rise and fall of the Qin dynasty. The dynasty only lasted from 221 BC until 206 BC. Yet it was the foundation for Imperial China and set the precedence for how the country was ruled by emperors until 1912.

91 East XiaoZhai Road, Xi'an, Shaanxi Province, China
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36 Zhongshan Grottoes Exhibit at Shaanxi History Museum in Xi’an, China

The Zhongshan Grottoes are a complex of 18 caves located at the base of the Zhongshan Mountain in Shaanxi Province. They were created during the Eastern Jin dynasty (317-420 AD). Archeologists discovered a treasure trove of artifacts inside the five caves that have been excavated to date. The largest surprise was finding about 10,000 Buddha statues inside the Middle Cave. This display at Exhibition Hall Number Two at the Shaanxi History Museum shows samples of the sculptures. You will also learn about the nearly 350 other Buddhist caves found in Shaanxi Province.

91 East XiaoZhai Road, Xi'an, Shaanxi Province, China
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37 Introduction to Daci’en Temple in Xi’an, China

In 648, Prince Li Zhi commissioned Daci’en Temple as a memorial after the death of his mother, Empress Zhangsun. The name means Great Maternal Love. He became Emperor Gaozong of Tang the following year. During his 34-year rule over the Tang dynasty, this imperial temple grew to 1,897 rooms covering 66 acres. When it was reconstructed in 1466 during the Ming dynasty, the property shrunk to 12.5 acres. Yet it remains one of China’s most revered Buddhist temples. There are nine pagodas at this UNESCO World Heritage Site. The visual highlight is the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda.

Daci’en Temple, South Yanta Road, Xi’an, China
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38 Burning Incense at Mahavira Hall at Daci’en Temple in Xi’an, China

The first structure you will encounter after entering Daci’en Temple is Mahavira Hall. This is typical of a main hall at a Buddhist temple. It is a place for prayer and reverence. A common practice is to burn incense. The ritual is symbolic of respect and spiritual cleansing. The Theravada Buddhist tradition – called the Triple Gem – is to simultaneously use three sticks. They represent Buddha, the Dharma teachings and the Buddhist community.

Daci’en Temple, South Yanta Road, Xi’an, China
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39 Statues inside Mahavira Hall at Daci’en Temple in Xi’an, China

Step inside Mahavira Hall at Daci’en Temple. There is large gilded statue sitting in the double lotus position. The hands symbolize Uttarabodhi Mudra meaning supreme enlightenment. This is Sakyamuni. The Gautama Buddha was the founder of Buddhism in the 5th century BC. On the left is Ānanda, the former attendant of Buddha. On the right is Kassapa Buddha, a chief disciple. Behind this trinity are small statues of the Eighteen Arhats. They were the original followers who all achieved the state of Nirvana.

Daci’en Temple, South Yanta Road, Xi’an, China
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40 Maitreya Sculpture at Daci’en Temple in Xi’an, China

This nine-foot copper statue at Daci’en Temple represents Maitreya. The divine being resides in Tusita. The Pure Land of Buddha is one of six deva worlds. This heaven is where Sakyamuni (Gautama Buddha) lived before being born on earth and founding Buddhism. In the future, Maitreya will also come to earth with additional teachings. The cult of Maitreya Buddha reached its peak from the 4th to the 7th century. The first monk of Daci’en Temple, Xuanzang, was an avid believer and aspired to reach Tusita after death.

Daci’en Temple, South Yanta Road, Xi’an, China
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41 Giant Wild Goose Pagoda at Daci’en Temple in Xi’an, China

The centerpiece of Daci’en Temple is the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda. This architectural treasure of Xi’an was constructed in the mid-7th century. The original purpose was to house Buddha scriptures, figures and relics retrieved from India by Xuanzang, the first abbot of the temple. The Dayan Pagoda has been rebuilt several times during its history of 1,370 plus years. The brick tower is 213 feet tall. You can tour the displays on all seven floors. At the top is an observation deck.

Daci’en Temple, South Yanta Road, Xi’an, China
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42 South Gate Tower at Han Yangling Mausoleum in Xi’an, China

A fascinating archeological attraction worth visiting while driving to or from Xi’an airport is the Han Yangling Mausoleum. The Han Yang Ling Museum is located in Zhangjiawan Village about a dozen miles from center city. The 12.4 square mile site contains the tomb of Liu Qi – the emperor of the Western Han dynasty from 157 until 141 BC – and Empress Wang. Encircling their graves are 86 burial pits. Those that have been excavated have produced a treasure trove of nearly 50,000 artifacts.

Hanyangling Museum, Airport Hwy, Weicheng Qu, Xianyang Shi, Shaanxi Sheng, China
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43 Underground Museum at Han Yangling Mausoleum in Xi’an, China

The highlight of Han Yangling Mausoleum is the underground museum positioned between the tombs of Emperor Jing of Han and his empress. The Outside Pits Exhibition Hall measures two acres. As you explore the ten, glass-encased pits beneath your feet, you will see thousands of pottery warriors, servants and dancers. They stand clustered together naked and armless. Their clothes and wooden arms deteriorated while buried for over 2,000 years. Also exhibited in the pits are rows of animals including horses, oxen, pigs and goats. However, unlike the life-size Terracotta Warriors, these figures are miniatures. They rarely exceed two feet in height.

Hanyangling Museum, Airport Hwy, Weicheng Qu, Xianyang Shi, Shaanxi Sheng, China
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44 Horse-drawn Chariot at Han Yangling Mausoleum in Xi’an, China

There is also a traditional museum at the Han Yangling Mausoleum where artifacts are displayed in glass cases at eye level. This allows you to inspect the intricate discoveries such as weapons, utensils, coins, jewelry, vases and figurines. Among the collection at the Archaeological Exhibit Center are several chariots. They vary in size and comfort based on the importance of the passenger, ranging from royalty to junior officers. This is a yaoche. The four-horse vehicle was probably reserved for a high-ranking government official. Chinese chariots were an effective military vehicle from 1200 BC until the start of the Han dynasty (202 BC).

Hanyangling Museum, Airport Hwy, Weicheng Qu, Xianyang Shi, Shaanxi Sheng, China
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