Walkable city walls, a famed earthenware army
and a cultural melting pot
With the Weihe River to the north and the protective Qinling Mountains to the south, Xi’an has a long and proud history. As the capital of at least a dozen imperial dynasties spanning more than a thousand years, it’s home to hundreds of palaces and temples.
A visit to Xi’an Banpo Museum proves that even the terracotta army, which dates from the third century BC, is a relative newcomer. Wander among objects that were unearthed by archaeologists from a Neolithic village where the city now stands. The looming seventh-century Giant Wild Goose Pagoda and the iconic Drum and Bell Towers will give you a sense of the city’s former imperial power, while the Great Mosque of Xi’an is yet another reminder of its status as a medieval trading crossroads.
Strolling along the imposing city wall that wraps around the oldest part of the centre – the most complete structure of its kind in China – is the best way to appreciate one of the largest remaining medieval defence systems in the world. But Xi’an is not only about the past – it’s a thriving modern metropolis. Radiating out from the central Bell Tower, East, West, North and South Streets are all wide boulevards lined with glittering shopping malls and contemporary restaurants.
If you’re looking for bargains and handicrafts, you might prefer the night market of Beiyuanmen Street. This is also the place to enjoy Muslim-influenced street food like grilled lamb in pitta bread, a continent-spanning Xi’an speciality that reflects its cosmopolitan nature as much as any grand monument.