Fabulous Xi'an, the historic capital of China.
07.05.2014 - 09.05.2014 38 °C
I arrived in Xi'an pretty excited. Chengdu was amazing, but Xi'an was the start of seeing proper ancient China. The end of the Silk Road, Xi'an has an entire wall, the drum and bell towers, the pagodas, a Muslim quarter and of course Emperor Qin Shi Huang's Terracotta Army.
I checked into Hangtang House and went immediately to the centre of the old city, 10 minutes walk from the hostel. The Bell Tower is marooned in a sea of traffic thankfully accessed by an underground tunnel.
View from Bell Tower
I was starving so I headed first to the Lonely Planet recommended 100 year old dumpling restaurant Defachang Jiaoziguan. Pity they had updated the decor in the 1980's but the dumplings and the view of the towers were fab.
The Drum and Bell towers were built in the 14th century, rebuilt in the 1700's. They are in the centre of the old city and were used to mark time. Bells were rung during the day and drums marked the night. They have been beautifully restored and I think better than the ones in Beijing. The bell on the bell tower was cast in 711AD!
Next stop was the wall...I headed to the South Gate immediately south from the Bell Tower. I had timed this perfectly as the day was super hot and I wanted to spend a couple of hours cycling round. So I got to see the sunset from the wall plus see it beautifully lit at night. Cycle hire was only $10 for two hours, bargain! Plus there was peaceful piped Chinese music all the way round.
These wall were built in the Ming Dynasty, 1370, and are 12 m high and 14 km in length. Much larger walls surrounded a larger city in the Tang Dynasty (618AD to 907 AD) and encircled an area of 83km2 with over a million people living within them at the time.
Dinner was grabbed from the Muslim Quarter. Chinese Muslims have lived in this area since the 7th century and it is the best part of the city. Narrow lanes with not just souvenir shops- people are just getting on with their lives here and it is fascinating.
The Grand Mosque. Chinese mosques are very different!
The next day I had booked myself on a tour to the Terracotta Army. It was a scorcher! The tour guide was a crack up. Her name was Ja Ja and she told us we could call her Lady Ja Ja. Her English accent was really hard to understand but she repeated herself several times which was useful.
The Army was built for the first Emperor of China. He was an impressive but crazy man. Born in 260 BC, he conquered all of China and unified China in 221BC becoming its first Emperor. During his reign the Great Wall was also built.
The creation of his Terracotta Army started when he ascended the throne of his home kingdom when he was just 13 years old. It continued until his death, foretold by a comet, but most probably due to the ingestion of mercury, in 210 BC. The mercury was supposed to make him immortal.
The face of every warrior is different, the faces were copies of the workmen that created them. The workmen had short lives and many were probably sacrificed during the creation of the army. They were possibly luckier than the 3000 concubines that were buried alive when the Emperor was interred.
The warriors were found by a farmer in 1974 when he was digging a well. According to Lady Ja Ja he found the only intact warrior found in the dig so far. The archer is on display in pit 2, the first pit we visited. I was lucky to see him as he was constantly surrounded by a sea of tourists hoping to get a snap of themselves with the famous warrior.
The farmer is also now very famous. His whole village was moved due to the discovery, he was compensated around $10 US, and now he signs books every day at the museum. I got to see him. Not too sure if he enjoys his new calling.
There are three pits at the dig. We started with pit 2 which is still being excavated, most warriors are still in pieces. You can see the walls and the impressions of the roofs that eventually collapsed. It is massive. So far 1300 warriors and horses have been found.
You can get up close and personal with some of the warriors in this pit, if you are patient and willing to shove people out of the way.
Pit 3 was the smallest pit and was thought to be army HQ. It contains high ranking officers and horses. Unfortunately some are headless.
Pit 1 is the most amazing. It is thought to contain 6000 warriors, 2000 are on display, the rest are being dug up and reassembled. All of the restored warriors are facing east, in battle formation. They have even found warriors from different regions in China with their distinct costumes and head pieces and hair do's.
We then visited the Emperor's actual resting place in the searing 38 degree heat. Lady Ja Ja said it wasn't very interesting to look at because it was just a hill.
But it is reputed to have underground rivers of flowing mercury (what is it with the mercury), booby traps, and the remains of the buried alive workers who had to take their secrets to the grave. The tomb doesn't appear to have been looted, unlike some of the warriors, so it must have worked. Archaeologists have sent probes down and mercury is around 100 times the normal rate that occurs naturally.
We also missed out on the bronze chariots and horses that are on this site. Lady Ja Ja must have been hungry.
My last day in Xian was spent using the subway and travelling to the Big Wild Goose Pagoda and the Small Wild Goose Pagoda, the Xian museum and the Great Mosque. I also ate more tasty food in the Muslim Quarter. The day was rainy and cold, complete opposite to the day before.
The goose pagodas (I don't know the significance of the names) were also built in the Tang Dynasty between 652 and 709 AD. They are Buddhist temples, built to hold sutras and Buddha figurines from India. They were both damaged by an earthquake in 1556 which I didn't know about when I climbed all the way to the top of the small pagoda. Lucky that.