Six Must-see Sights of Xi’an
Historical monuments and relics
In a city so imbued in history, it’s hard to know what to see first. In this guide, find out the need-to-know facts of Xi’an’s most famous historical monuments and what it is about its cultural relics that attracts thousands of international visitors every year.
Terracotta Warriors and Horses
Guardians to Qin Shi Huang
Intricately detailed and staggering in number, this collection of over 8,000 terracotta soldiers dates as far back as third century BCE. They were built for the emperor Qin Shi Huang, who was the first ruler of the unified Chinese states.
To rule in death as he had in life
The vast army was constructed because either the emperor was terrified of the vanquished spirits awaiting him in the afterlife, or – as most archaeologists believe – he expected his rule to continue in death as it had in life.
These guardians offer some of the greatest insights we have into the world of ancient China, but the discovery of this grand spectacle was entirely by chance. Uncovered as recently as 1974, the statues were only found when farmers were digging a well just 1.6 kilometres from the tomb itself. The statues are still studied intensively by international scholars and no trip to the city is complete without taking in this awe-inspiring display of ancient craftsmanship.
The Xi’an City Wall
Spectacular Battlements and Towers
One of the oldest and best-preserved Chinese city walls, the Xi’an city wall was built in 2nd century BCE and measures 13.7 kilometres in circumference. The site is under national protection, but locals and tourists are still free to enjoy it by walking atop and absorbing the panorama of the Xi’an skyline.
A Nightly Spectacle
The best way to see it is by cycling all the way round – and there are many bicycles available to hire at the top of all the gates. Intrepid explorers will keep their eyes peeled for a staircase down inside a covered structure: enclosed are the remains of a gatehouse that hides a calligraphy collection history lovers will covet.
The wall comes alive at night when it is lit up and makes for a pleasurable stroll. Walking around the landscaped park around the base of the exterior walls in the glow of the shimmering lights gives you a new perspective on the battlements and towers.
Forest of Stone Steles Museum
Monumental Stone Slabs
‘Steles’ are stone slabs erected for monumental purposes and this museum houses a growing assortment of steles gathered from as early as 1087.
Calligraphy, Painting and Records
Altogether there are 3,000 steles in the museum, which is divided into seven exhibitions halls, and they mainly display works of calligraphy, painting and historical records.
Notable steles within the collection include the Kaicheng Stone Classics, a group of Confucian works carved as a reference document for scholars, and the Nestorian Stele, which was erected in 781 AD to document 150 years of early Christianity in China. Another unusual example is an 18th century stele depicting a Yangtze River flood control project.
Admirers who fall in love with the steles will be glad to know ink rubbings of the stones are available to buy within the museum – they are much easier to take back on the plane than the tablet itself!
Big Wild Goose Pagoda
Originally constructed in 652 AD, this pagoda was initially five stories high and one of its many functions was to hold sutras and figurines of the Buddha that were brought to China from India.
A befallen structure
Many incidents have befallen the structure that has led to its development and redevelopment. The Empress Wu Zetian had the pagoda rebuilt and added another five new stories by the year 704 AD, but unfortunately a massive earthquake in 1556 heavily damaged the pagoda and reduced it by three levels, explaining its current height of seven stories.
Renovated in 1964, the pagoda currently stands at an impressive 64 metres tall and from the top it offers views over the whole city. The grounds feature an astounding fountain and beautiful water features, while there is occasionally a music show to witness during the day. Tourists can also find pleasing parks and Western-style eateries nearby.
A subject of myths and legends
This iconic symbol of the city is not only a historical monument in itself, but also the subject of many myths and legends. One such tale recounts how, in the great river that flowed across the centre of Xi’an city, there was an active dragon that caused many earthquakes.
Restraining the dragon
A government official ordered the blacksmiths of the whole city to make a long iron chain in order to lock the dragon down and sink it to the bottom of the river. He then instructed 5,000 craftsmen to repair the Bell Tower in order to use the structure to restrain the dragon. It is said there were no more earthquakes in the area thereafter.
The tower is so named because it contains several large bronze bells from the Tang Dynasty, including the jingyun bell that was cast in 711 AD and measures 247 centimetres high, weighing in at a colossal 6,500 kilograms.
A Breathtaking Experience
The sheer scale of the buildings contained within the site of Daming Palace is enough to blow you away by itself and witnessing the architecture is a breathtaking experience.
A Grand Sense of History
Recently added to the World Heritage List, the palace was originally commissioned by the Emperor Li Shimin as the summer palace for his father, Emperor Li Yuan. However, it became the centre of the Tang Dynasty when many more Chinese emperors chose it as the site from which to deal with state affairs.
The palace premises themselves make for a peaceful walk and entry to the area is free, but you won’t be able to ignore the grand sense of history on offer. Since the 1950s, the archaeology work to Daming Palace has been extensive and uncovered many new grounds. You can learn about the palace’s past by visiting the Daming Palace Heritage Museum and – for a small fee – gain access to its cultural relics preservation and exhibition area.