One of the four ancient capitals of China, Xi’an has a history that goes back thousands of years. It was once a bustling trading center and terminus of the legendary Silk Road, an epic trading route that led from Europe to China. Marco Polo was the Silk Road’s most famous passenger, but various forms of the trading route had existed centuries before the Venetian ever visited China. Today not much trade passes through Xi’an, and instead the city receives tourists from around the world who come to see the city’s artifacts and experience its historical charm.
Inside the Ancient Walls of Xi’an
Xi’an is the world’s largest walled city and its ancient walls divide the city into two sections: the inner city and outer city. Most of the city’s historic attractions are located inside the walls, and as such this is where most tourists choose to stay.
The focal points of the walled city are the impressive Bell Tower and Drum Tower. The bell was sounded at dawn, and the drum at night as a way of keeping time. Every Chinese city had a bell tower and drum tower during the Ming Dynasty, but not every city had towers as impressive as Xi’an’s! The city’s towers were built in the 14th century and they are two of the best preserved towers in all of China.
Not too far from the Drum Tower is the city’s Muslim Quarter. Centered around Muslim Street, this area is one of the oldest Muslim quarters in all of China. It’s quite interesting to see Chinese-style mosques, as their architectural style resembles the more familiar Buddhist temples.
At night Muslim Street transforms into a pedestrian-only night market. Dozens of stands set up on the street and sidewalks, selling everything from assorted knickknacks and souvenirs, to sweets and street food. There’s definitely no better place in the city for a spontaneous buffet dinner!
The city wall itself is also an attraction. It is an impressive 40 feet tall and stretches for 8.5 miles around the city. The wall has four gates, which all traffic into the inner city must pass through. One interesting way to experience the wall and see Xi’an is to rent a bicycle and ride along the top of the wall. The wall is 40 feet wide and it’s possible to circle the entire city this way. Bicycle rental shops can be found near the base of the wall, and fees start around RMB40 for 1.5 hours.