China’s ancient city of Xi’an is a window into the rich history and religions of the land and a great place to start when getting to the country.
With over 5,000 years of history, China is reputed to be the single oldest uninterrupted civilization in the world. Also known as the Middle Kingdom due to Chinese’s belief that they resided in the centre of all civilizations, it covers approximately one-fifteenth of the land area of the world and contains many natural wonders.
In the city of Xi’an, you will find much worth seeing in China. From the ancient artifacts and evidences of China’s rich histories to the multitude of religions monuments which indicated their influences in Chinese.
As one of the six ancient capital of China, Xi’an served as the imperial capital 12 times in more than 3,000 years back when it was called Chang’an. During this time, famous dynasties such as Zhou, Qin, Han and Tang all when by and left their respective marks on the city.
Today, it is a world-famous tourist city with a treasure house of cultural relics. Possibly the greatest period of development for the city was during the Tang Dynasty (618-904) when the city was truly became a major religious centre, not only for Buddhism and Taoism but also for several other religions. Some of the new religions to enter China at that time – Zoroastrianism, Nestorianism and Manichaeism – all came to China through Xi’an first.
Xi’an also features one of the five famous mountains of China, the Huashan Mountain. Other major attractions in Xi’an are the City Wall of the Ming Dynasty and the magnificent Palace of Emperor Qin.
The Clay Warriors
First discovered in the massive tomb complex of the first Chinese Emperor Qin Sin Huang - the Terra Cotta statues numbered more than 8,000 soldiers with horses. Spreading over some 56 square kilometers, its discovery in the 1970s was arguably the most important archeological find of the 20th century.
It is believed that Emperor Qin wanted his afterlife to be the same as his life as emperor and wanted his soldiers to protect him even in the afterlife. There were four pits excavated in all, but the fourth pit was found to be empty leading to be belief that it was left incomplete as the Emperor had died then.
The design for the statues originated before the Qin dynasty, the time when masters were buried with live women, slaves and soldiers. However, through the years, this tradition of burying live humans with their deceased monarch ceased and the clay statues used in their stead.
Stone Age Village
Stone Age village has been excavated and preserved for future generations to view.
Marked as another of Xi’an’s major attraction, the Banpo museum is located just five miles east of the city. Dating all the way back to 4,5000BC, the village is believed to be the remains of the Yangshao culture and is preserved under a huge auditorium roof. Approximately 800 years of Chinese history is encapsulated in its 46 huts fire pits, storage cellars, pottery kilns and 174 gravesites. Visitors can get a glimpse of weapons fashioned from stone and beautiful pottery painted with sharp geometric shapes that depict fishes and deer. These simple everyday items show both the lifestyle and the artistic instincts of Chinese ancestors.
The most haunting aspect of the village would be the half a dozen skeletons and the graves of the village located in a corner of the museum.
Off The Beaten Track
For the more adventurous, there are lesser-known tourist spots which are just as interesting as the popular one.
* The Chinese Pyramids
First sighted by an American pilot during World War II, these so-called Chinese White Pyramids are reported to be about 30 metres in height and just 100 km south-west of Xi’an. Touted to be one of the biggest rivals to the pyramids of Giza of Egypt, at least in terms of mass, the Chinese pyramids are believed to be at least 4,000 years old. On an interesting note, they were said to be originally painted black on the North, blue-grey on the East, red on the South, white on the West and yellow on the top Centre platform.
* The Protestant Church and the Catholic Church
The first indication of Christianity’s spread into China was in AD652. However, 200 years later, foreign religions were banned and the missionaries only began to come to China another 700 years later.
The Protestant Church of Xi’an possesses a tower of mixed influences. The building is combined traditional Chinese and northern European architectural styles. The influence of foreign cultures is evident in the Catholic Church too. It is said that even today, the mass is still said in Latin, even though the rituals and the language have been almost lost in the West.
The Chinese civilization has come a long way and highly commendable efforts have been made to preserve whatever that remains of its long history. Xi’an’s role in this preservation effort is what distinguishes it from many of the other cities.