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Xian once vied with Rome and later Constantinople for the title of greatest city in the world. Over a period of 2000 years Xian has seen the rise and fall of numerous Chinese dynasties, and the monuments and archeological sites in the city and the surrounding plain are a reminder that once upon a time Xian stood at the very centre of the Chinese world. Today Xian is one of China's major tourist attractions. The big draw card is the Army of Terracotta Warriors, but there is far more to see also in the city itself. There is also an Islamic element to Xian, found in tucked away mosques and busy marketplaces, that lend the city a touch of the exotic rarely found in Chinese cities further east.
Tips and Suggestions: The highlight number one is definitely Terra-cotta Warriors, which are located about one hour by bus from Xian. A great experience is taking a bike ride around the city walls. Considering the Bell Tower and Drum Tower, in my opinion the Drum Tower is the one to go for. From Drum Tower head for Muslim quarter just around the corner. Walking in the food market is a priceless experience.
Bell Tower (Zhong Lou)
The Bell Tower is a huge building in the centre of Xian that is entered through an underpass on the north side of the tower. The original tower was built in the late 14th century, but it was rebuilt at the present location in 1739 during the Qing dynasty. A large iron bell in the tower used to mark the time each day, hence the name. There are musical performances inside the tower every afternoon and a permanent exposition of paintings.
Drum Tower (Gu Lou)
The Drum Tower, a smaller building to the west of the Bell Tower, marks the Muslim quarter of Xian. There is an exposition of drums inside, which is definitely worth seeing. There is also a possibility to buy paintings and other stuff on the second floor of the tower.
City Walls (Chengqiang)
Xian is one of the few cities in China where old city walls are still visible. The walls were built on the foundations of the walls of the Tang Forbidden City during the reign of Hong Wu, first emperor of the Ming dynasty. They form a rectangle with a circumference of 14 km. On each side of the wall is gateway, and over each stand three towers. At each of the four corner is a watchtower, and the top of the wall is punctuated with defensive towers.
There is a number of access ramps up to the wall, some of which are located just east of the train station, near Heping Lu and South Gate. There are also some obscure steps at the eastern end of the south wall. Air-raid shelters were hollowed out of the walls when the Japanese bombed the city, and during the Cultural Revolution caves were dug to store grain. The walls have been restored in whole length, so that it is possible to take a walk or bike ride right around Xian along the city walls. City walls are opened until 10 pm and the entry costs 10 yuan, unless you are a student, then you pay the half.
Tips and Suggestions: Rent a bike and take a ride around the city walls. It is a magnificent experience. Entry costs 10 yuan (unless you are a student, then you pay 5 yuan, so don't forget your student's card with you) and the bike rental is 15 or 30 yuan per hour depending on what you want to rent - single bike or tandem. Deposit is 200 yuan or your passport. The place where you can rent the bike is just above the South Gate.
Big Goose Pagoda (Dayan Ta)
This pagoda stands in what was formerly the Temple of Great Maternal Grace in the south of Xian. The temple was built around AD 648 by Emperor Gao Zong who was the third emperor of Tang Dynasty, when he was still crown prince, in memory of his deceased mother. The buildings that stand today date from the Qing dynasty and were built in a Ming style. The original pagoda was built in AD 652 with only five storey, but it has been renovated, restored and added to many times. It was built to house the Buddhist scriptures brought back from India by the traveling a mong Xuan Yang, who then set about translating them into 1335 Chinese volumes. You can climb to the top for a view of the countryside and the city.
Entry costs 25 yuan and there is no student discount. However you have to pay another entry fee to climb up to the top. In front of the Pagoda, there is a magnificent fountain, which is said to be the largest fountain in East Asia. It starts every two hours.
Tips and Suggestions: The garden and the temple is really worth seeing however we actually didn't climb up to the top of the pagoda since I was upset with the additional fee. The fountain is magnificent, you can admire all kinds of water formation while listening to classical music. If you want to take pictures I suggest to be careful about the wind, otherwise your camera can suddenly get the direct hit by water. Most visitors get usually wet so bring your umbrella. But don't worry, there is a KFC nearby, so that you can get the first help from the dryer in bathroom.
Little Goose Pagoda (Xiaoyan Ta)
The Little Goose Pagoda is in the pleasant grounds of the Jianfu Si. The top of the pagoda was shaken off by an earthquake in the middle of the 16th century, but the rest of the 43m high structure is intact. The Jianfu Si was originally built in AD 648 as a site to hold prayers to bless the afterlife of the late Emperor Gao Zong. The pagoda, a rather delicate building of 15 progressively smaller tiers, was built from AD 707 to 709 and housed Buddhist scriptures brought back from India by another pilgrim
Entry is 5 yuan and additional 10 yuan if you want to climb to the top, but actually except of a few apartments blocks there is nothing to see from there.
Temple of the Eight Immortals (Baxian An)
This is Xian's largest Taoist establishment and an active place of worship. Scenes from Taoist mythology are painted around the temple courtyard. The entrance is on the southern side of the temple grounds. There is a nice quiet garden in the back, where you can enjoy a cup of an inexpensive tea. In front of the entrance, there is an antique market, which is also worth seeing and where you can admire how the locals transform the newly made coins into old ones and later trying to convince you that these are really the very old coins which were unearthed from the ground.
Entry is 3 yuan and it is worth the price.
This area near the Daqingzhen Si has retained much of its original character. the backstreets to the north and west of the mosque have been home to the city's Hui community for centuries. Walking through the narrow laneways lined with old mud-brick houses, you pass butcher shops, sesame oil factories, smaller mosques hidden behind enormous wooden doors and proud, stringy-bearded men wearing white skullcaps. The most interesting is definitely the Great Mosque and the food market where you can taste some local specialties.
Shaanxi History Museum (Shanxi Lishi Bowuguan)
Built in huge, classical Tang style, the museum was opened in 1992 and is rater as one of the best museums in China. The collection is chronologically arranged and includes material previously housed in the Provincial Museum, although many objects have never been on permanent display before.
The ground floor deals with China's prehistory and the early dynastic period, starting with Paleolithic Langtian Man and the more recent new Stone Age settlements at Lintong and Bapo between 7000 and 5000 years ago. Upstairs, the second section is devoted to Han, Western Wei and Northern Zhou dynasty relics. The basement is devoted to various exhibitions, which are worthy of a browse, like mirror exposition.
Army of Terracotta Warriors
Ranking up to there with the Great Wall and the Forbidden City as one of China's top historical sights, the 2000-years old Army of Terracotta warriors remains stunningly well preserved. In 1974 peasants digging a well uncovered what turned out to be perhaps the major archaeological discovery of the 20th century: an underground vault of earth and timber that eventually yield thousands of life-size terracotta soldiers and their horses in battle formation. In 1976 two other smaller vaults were discovered close to the first one.
The first underground vault measures about 210 m east to west and 60m from north to south. The pit varies in depth from 5m to 7 m. Walls were built running east to west at intervals of 3m, forming corridors. In these corridors, on floors laid with grey brick, are arranged the terracotta figures. Pillars and beams once supported a roof.
The 6000 terracotta figures of warriors and horses face east in a rectangular battle army. The vanguard appears to be three rows of 210 crossbow and longbow bearers who stand as the easternmost end of the army. close behind is the main force of armored soldiers holding spears, dagger axes and other long/shaft weapons, accompanied by 35 horse-drawn chariots. Every figure differs in facial features and expressions. Many figures originally held real weapons of the day, and over 10 000 pieces weapons have been sorted to date.
The second vault, excavated in 1976, contained about 1000 figures and the extcavating works have been still in process. There is a small display of warriors in glass showcases.
The third pit contained only 68 warriors and one war chariot, and appeared to be the command post for the soldiers in the other vaults. Archaeologist believe the warriors discovered so far may be part of an even larger terracotta army still buried around. Excavation of the entire complex and the tomb itself could take decades. Almost as impressive is a pair of bronze chariots and horses unearthed in 1980 just 20m west of the Win Shihuang. Ling and now housed in the Wing Young Museum, a small museum within the enclosure of the warriors site.
Entry costs 90 yuan, unless you are a student, than you pay only 45 yuan. The most cheaper way, how to get there, is to take the bus 307 just across the railway station. There is always a long line for the bus, but they run almost every 5 minutes.
Tips and suggestions: Since there are crowds of people I suggest to take the first bus leaving Xian at 7am. You get to the site before the main crowds of people and have at least a little bit time to admire the whole historical site without fighting with somebody about the place. Apparently it was not possible to prevent tourist from taking pictures, since - in contrast with travel guide information - it is allowed to take the photos inside the pit (except the second one), but you should beware to use triangle or flash.
Tomb of Qin Shihuang (Qin Shihuang Ling)
It may not amount too much as a tourist attraction , but in its time the Qin Shihuang Tomb must have been one of the grandest mausoleums the world had ever seen. In the year 246 BC, at the age of 13, Ying Zheng ascended the throne of the state of Qin and assumed the title Shi Huang, or First Emperor. One by one he defeated his enemies, until in 221 BC the last of them fell. Qin Shihuang united the country, and standardized the currency and written script. On the down side, he acquired a reputation for purges, mass book-burning parties, enforced labor in massive construction projects, and other tyrannical behavior. His rule blasted until his death in 210 BC. His son only held out for four years, before being overthrown by the revolt that established the Han dynasty.
Historical accounts describe Qin's tomb as containing palaces filled with precious stones and ingenious defenses against intruders. It housed ceiling vaulted with pearls, statues of gold and silver, and rivers of mercury. It is said, that the artisans who brought it all into being were buried alive within, taking their secret with them. There were more then 800000 people employed in building it. Despite the legends and impressive statistics, basically all there is to see nowadays is a mound and a park. The tomb is 1,5 km east of the Army of Terracotta Warriors. Entry costs 25 yuan, if you are a student you pay only 13 yuan.
Tips and Suggestions: You can easily walk there from the Army of Terra-cotta Warriors, it takes not even 20 minutes. If you don't have enough time, just skip it, it is not as interesting as the Terra-cotta Warriors.
Source: This page uses information from Lonely Planet