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Xi'an City Profile

A Visit to Xi'an, Capital of Shaanxi Province

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Overview:

Xi'an, prounounced "she-ahn" is the capital of Shaanxi, "shahn-she", province in central China and is steeped in history as it not only was the cultural and political capital of China for hundreds of years, but also the beginning point of the Silk Road leading west. The biggest tourist draw is, of course, the Army of the Terracotta Warriors, but the city itself is an interesting destination to visit Muslim markets and tour the mostly-intact city wall.

Location:

Xi'an is located in south-central Shaanxi Province which itself is bordered by Gansu, Ningxia, Inner Mongolia, Shanxi, Henan, Hubei, Chongqing and Sichuan provinces respectively.

History:

A crossroads for trade, Xi'an has seen dynasties come and go. ­Read more about the History of Xi'an.

Features & Attractions:

The interesting part of Xi'an itself is the area inside the city wall. This is the old part of town and inside are the Bell and Drum Towers, huge Ming-era towers built to house the city's bell and drum. The Muslim quarter is just west of the Bell Tower. You can easily spend a day inside this area: rent bikes and ride along the walls peering down onto daily Xi'an life, wander around the towers and then stroll into the Muslim quarter, snack on street food and find yourself a bargain in the markets. There's lots to see in the surrounding area too, not to mention the Army of the Terracotta Warriors.

City Walls:
The walls were built on the foundation of the Tang Dynasty's imperial residence in Chang'an (read more about Xi'an's History). While most ancient Chinese cities had walls, most have been knocked down to make way for modern-day roads. Fortunately for you, the Ming-era walls are still mostly intact. Take a few hours to climb up and rent bikes at the top. It's a great way to see Xi'an.

Temples & Such:
Xi'an has some lovely temples to visit.

  • Big Goose Pagoda, Dayan Ta - originally built in 648 by a Tang prince, this temple compound has been beautifully restored. Its buildings and gardens offer a park-like atmosphere in which to wander. The pagoda was built to store sutras brought back from India by a Chinese monk.
  • Small Goose Pagoda, Xiaoyan Ta - was originally built in 684 in honor of Tang emperor Gaozong.
  • Great Mosque, Daqingzhen Si - one of the largest mosques in China. Just five minutes from the Drum Tower in central Xi'an, the courtyard can be visited by non-Muslims.
  • Temple of Eight Immortals, Baxian An - Xi'an's largest Taoist temple.
  • Forest of Steles Museum (former Confucius Temple), Beilin Bowuguan - largely a collection Silk Road history, the museum has some English labels and the area around the museum has been renovated in Ming-era style so is interesting in itself.

Ban Po Neolithic Village:
Many tours to Xi'an will include a stop at this "village" which is basically a museum housing the pits where the remains of this village have been unearthed. A few interesting artifacts are inside the museum, but it's not terribly interesting unless you happen to be a big fan of Neolithic Man.

The Army of the Terracotta Warriors:
The Qin Shi Huang Terracotta Warriors & Horses Museum is by far the top reason people visit Xi'an. The museum is just a half hour outside Xi'an by car or bus. Read more about visiting the Army of the Terracotta Warriors.

Getting There:

Xi'an is well connected by rail, bus and air to the rest of China. Many visitors add Xi'an as a quick stop to an itinerary that includes Beijing. It is just a one hour flight or an overnight train from Beijing so is an easy addition.

Essentials:

  • Population: 7 million
  • Telephone Code: 029 (when dialing from overseas, drop the first 0)
  • Weather: In central China, Xi'an has a relatively mild climate in that it doesn't see the extremely cold temperatures of the north, or hot temperatures of the south. July is the hottest month with reported temperatures in the 90s F (30s C). January is the coldest month with average daytime temperatures of 40F (5 C). Spring and fall are peak tourist times but going off-peak is rewarding to miss the crowds.
  • Recommended time for visit: 2 days.
  • Notes:
    • Don't be surprised if Xi'an is extremely smoggy when you visit. Shaanxi province is one of China's leading coal producers and they burn it for energy. You'll see the large smokestacks on Xi'an's horizon. If you suffer from asthma or other breathing conditions, be sure to take your medication along.
    • You may sometimes see Xi'an written as "Xian". Modern practices use the apostrophe to indicate the two syllables and correct pronunciation as "she-ahn". Xian is pronounced "shyahn", one syllable.

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