31 August 2009

Xi'an

Xi'an was the third city on the tour of China. We arrived early on the Monday morning by train from Beijing and stayed there for three days and two nights.

The purpose for including Xi'an on the tour was the history in the area and we saw quite a lot of that, and we managed to see some of the local culture too.

For an ancient city, Xi'an has not that much of its history to show but the bits that are still there are well worth seeing.

First stop was the Small Wild Goose Pagoda, chosen in preference to the Large Wild Goose Pagoda because it attracts fewer tourists.

The pagoda looks old and frail but it is solid enough to climb up, which I did. The final stage on to the roof is probably illegal under European Health and Safety legislation but offers grand views over Xi'an.


Xi'an is a walled city and that wall is stupendous.

It is rectangular, not that far off square, and is around 13km in circumference. The four sides are long and unrelentingly straight. There are a few towers along the way but they are a long way apart and are momentary distractions as you walk past them.

We were give a measly 40 minutes to explore one section of the wall but as this was to be followed by a couple of hours rest back in the hotel I decided to walk along the wall instead.

It was another hot day, over 30c with no cloud, and the walk was a rewarding mix of freedom and endurance.

After the wall came the walk back to the hotel which I was delighted to accomplish without the aid of the map which I had left in the hotel!


The reason that Xi'an is on the tour is because of the Terracotta Army that was discovered in 1974 buried just outside of the city.

The scale of the site is just amazing. The dots you can see on the far side are people.

This is the largest of the three pits which contain something like 8,000 terracotta warriors together with their horses and chariots.

The soldiers are life-sized and while very similar they do vary in their uniform and facial details. It is said that no two are the same.

The individual soldiers have a certain strength and nobility but collected together as an army they are majestic.


The biggest surprise in Xi'an was to learn that one of the few old buildings within the city walls is a mosque originally dating from the seventh century.

There is little at the site to show that it is a mosque, it is certainly nothing like the mosques that I have visited in Europe and Africa. There are no minarets, for example, and the architecture is pure Chinese.

What was more familiar were the courtyards, the water and the pervading sense of peace and tranquillity.

Most of Xi'an was disappointingly modern and just like the rest of China but there are some historical gems there that make it worth spending a couple of days there.

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