Xian’s Treasures

By | Category: Travel destinations
Xian City Library

Xian City Library

Pronounced ‘She-ann’ this central north-western city located in the province of Shannxi is one of the four great ancient capitals of China. Not only has it been the capital city throughout 13 of Chinas major dynasties but it also marks the start point of the countries famous Silk Road. The city has been in existence for well over 3000 years and thankfully for us travellers a significant amount of this history remains for us to marvel at including an impressive fortified wall surrounded by a moat built some 600 hundred years ago during the Ming Dynasty although this was only to replace an earlier earth wall constructed by Emperor Liu Bang in 198BC. The current wall runs for around 14 kilometres and has a height of some 12 metres. It has provided a safe haven for rulers and leaders alike, indeed it was in Xian that the fledgling Communist Party combines respective armies with the Kuomintang in order to fight the invading Japanese and it was from here that Mao led his army to defeat the Nationalist Party and change the course of Chinas history.

Great Goose Pergoda

Great Goose Pergoda

For the visitor the city has a great deal to offer, western style hotels are plentiful so too are excellent restaurants and pavement cafes where one can sit and watch the endless traffic jambs and masses of people all going someplace but who knows where. If you are in to local culture then this is the birthplace of Chinese Opera and there are many productions one can see at local theatres within the city. Walking within the central downtown area is easy and there are lots to see including a walk along the city wall and the huge Drum & Bell Towers that sit near to the South Gate. Of course the city is also home to a huge Muslim community and a visit to that quarter is were one can expect to do some serious street trader bargaining. Whilst in this quarter a visit to the Great Mosque first built in the Tang dynasty around 742 and relocated to its current site back in the 1500’s. When we visited Xian there was a considerable amount of construction going on due to the building of two underground railways. Progress on these has been painfully slow due to the construction teams constantly coming across relics and buried historic treasures which all then have to be excavated by the archaeologists so the panned opening date of 2006 is long past. We spent the morning touring and then took time out to visit the excellent state run Jade Factory followed by a visit to one of the main ceramic producers where one can buy a full sized terracotta warrior if one wishes but shipping home will take some three months!

Weinan, home of the Terracotta Army

Weinan, home of the Terracotta Army

We took lunch at the restaurant run within the theatre where we were to visit during the evening the highly acclaimed ‘Tang Dynasty Show’ following which we made our way out of the city and headed 17 miles east for our afternoon visit to see one of China’s jewel’s – the Terracotta Army. The warriors were first unearthed in 1974 by four local peasant farmers who were digging a new well. Some thought they had unearthed demons from the underworld and either smashed what had been uncovered or hung the warrior heads in surrounding trees. But so the story goes one local farmer recognised the significance of the find and reported it to local officials and so one of the greatest finds since Tauten Karmon’s Tomb was to change not only the course of Chinas tourism business but also make a local man extremely rich.

The Terracotta Army site takes some three to four hours to explore and that’s on the basis that one keeps moving at a reasonable pace. Since its discovery some thirty five years ago the task of uncovering the entire army continues albeit at a somewhat slower pace than that of the early years when the State put every effort into getting the whole place up and running as they could see this being a big bucks earner. Once entering the site its best to head for the main Exhibition Hall and impressive new building that houses a great deal of information about the site and also the two bronze chariots. Interestingly just by the main interior staircase one can see a giant puppet warrior together with a little girl – these I am informed were due to be used at the Beijing Olympics but the plans changed – perhaps a good question for your guide?

Terracotta Army, Weinan, Xian

Terracotta Army, Weinan, Xian

From here one can either make for Pit One or take in a 20 minute film that explains why the Terracotta army is here and what happened to them. Quite frankly the production is long past its sell by date and the projection technique is a crude attempt at surround / IMAX that falls flat on its screen! Go to Pit One and get totally overwhelmed with the sheer scale of the site and its 6000 warriors. Inside it is very much a work in progress site but what has been achieved so far is incredible and one can only imagine what else remains to be discovered. There is always a crush of people at the entry point all clamouring to take stupid photos of themselves against a background that, unless one was shooting from a step-ladder, would never include much of the background. Be patient because it’s well worth waiting for these hoards to move on once they’ve completed their toothy smile and obligatory ‘V’ signs to the camera! Do the entire walk around its less crowded but still very interesting.

Pit Two lays directly behind Pit Three so perhaps its best to access this by walking around the entire length of Pit One then the whole thing runs in an understandable way. Pit Two is much smaller but again interesting as the relics are far deeper down and form part of a separate army. From here it’s but a short walk to Pit Three which is the newest of the three exhibit buildings and is an impressive piece of architecture in its own right. For the visitor one has the comfort of air-conditioning and subdued lighting plus the viewing galleries are far better and there are some excellent additional displays and visitor information areas.

After some three hours you may have made it around but I guarantee that you will feel that not only has it been well worthwhile but leave you with a lasting impression about the ingenuity of those that not on commissioned but constructed the tomb.

Tang Dynasty Show

Tang Dynasty Show

Our evening in Xian was spent visiting the Tang dynasty show and truly impressive production combining traditional Chinese song and dance together with more modern national dance and music. Very colourful and great choreography.

Sadly the following day we had to say farewell to this wonderful place to make our way south to the city of Guilin but before doing so we took time out to visit the Yangling Han Tomb and Museum that’s conveniently situated not far from Xian’s excellent airport. Modern techniques in excavation and preservation have provided the visitor with a unique underground experience – easy access, less crowds plus big exhibit halls some with glazed viewing floors and some excellent displays and information sections make this a definite place to include on any ‘must see’ agenda.

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