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Xian Travel Guide

Xi'an, in ancient times known as Chang'an, is situated in central China in the southern part of Guan Zhong Plain in Shaanxi province, with the Qinling Mountains to the north and the Weihe River to the south. In ancient times the city of Xi'an was a major crossroads on the trading routes from eastern China to central Asia, and the beginning point of the famed Silk Road; in recent years this 3,100 year old city, that was once seen as comparable with Rome and Constantinople, has come back into its own as one of China's major tourist attractions.<br /><br /> In 1974, on the city's eastern outskirts, archaeologists stumbled across a treasure trove: an army of terracotta warrior figurines in battle formation standing in underground vaults. Hailed as the greatest archaeological find of the 20th century, the Terracotta Warriors of Xi'an have brought visitors from around the world flocking to the city to soak up its historical and cultural heritage, and perhaps embark on an adventure tour along the ancient silk caravan route.<br /><br /> Besides the terracotta warriors, the city has a great many historical relics of interest, including museums and temples, which is unsurprising considering that Xi'an was the capital city of China through 12 dynasties during its thousands of years of development. The city wall is the largest in the world, and the Forest of Steles, with its collection of more than 3,000 ancient stone tablets, is both the largest and oldest in China.<br /><br />

Forest of Steles

Address: Shuyuanmen Street Xian

Admission: RMB 75 (March to November), RMB 50 (December to February). Summer 8am-6:45pm, Winter 8am-6pm.

Though there are many collections of steles (stone tablets) in China, only the one in Xi'an is large enough to be called a forest. There are more than 3,000 ancient steles in this library, dating back to the Tang Dynasty (618-907). The museum itself is nearly as old, having been established in 1087. The steles are divided into seven exhibition halls, and display classic examples of traditional Chinese calligraphy, painting and historical records. It is a scholarly sort of museum, and perhaps not as thrilling as some other sites, but if you are at all interested in history, writing, calligraphy, poetry or philosophy you will be enthralled. It is recommended that you hire one of the library's excellent English guides because without some assistance a lot of the interesting history, and the cultural relevance of the inscriptions, will be inaccessible to you. Apart from its impressive collections, the museum building has lovely grounds, with fountains and pagodas, making it a great place to relax and do some reading or writing after a long day of sightseeing. It is also one of the less crowded tourist attractions. Ink rubbings of some of the most famous tablets are for sale in the gift shop.<br /><br />

Qin Terracotta Army Museum

Address: Xian

Admission: RMB 110 Daily 8am to 6pm

Telephone: (0)29 8139 9001

In 1974, a group of peasants digging a well north of Mount Lishan in Lintong county, about 18 miles (30km) from Xi'an, unearthed fragments of a life-sized warrior figure. Because the site of the discovery was just one mile (2km) from the as yet unexcavated tomb of Chinese emperor Qin Shi Huangdi, who ruled between 246 and 210 BC, archaeologists grew excited. Further excavation revealed several timber-lined vaults filled with thousands of greatly detailed terracotta soldiers and their horses and chariots: an entire army assembled in position to follow Emperor Qin into eternity. The pits containing the army are now open to public viewing and thousands of visitors flock to gaze at the stunning array of figures with their vivid facial expressions.<br /><br /> The Terracotta Army Museum consists of the original pit that was discovered in 1974, which has been enclosed within a hangar-like building to preserve the ranks of 6,000 soldiers found there. A second pit, containing 1,400 figures of cavalrymen, horses and infantrymen, and 90 wooden chariots, is also part of the museum. Visitors can also see Qin's Mausoleum and view almost 100 sacrificial pits containing the skeletons of horses, complete with hay, that were buried with him. There are also about 20 tombs holding the remains of his counsellors and retainers. The emperor's tomb itself is under a 249 feet (76m) high mound that has not yet been excavated, but is believed, according to historical records, to have contained rare gems and other treasures.<br /><br />

Shaanxi Provincial History Museum

Address: 91 Xiaozai road Xian

Admission: 4,000 free tickets a day 9am to 5pm (November to March); 8:30am to 6pm (April to October); closed Mondays.

Telephone: (0)29 8521 9422

The graceful complex of buildings that constitute the Shaanxi Provincial History Museum in Xi'an's southern suburbs is built in the style of a Tang Dynasty pavilion, and is in itself worth seeing. The museum's exhibits, however, are even more breathtaking, consisting of 113,000 artefacts unearthed in the province and chronologically arranged in three exhibition halls. The exhibits cover the Han, Wei, Jin, North and South, Sui, Tang, Song, Yuan, Ming and Quing dynasties, as well as the prehistoric and bronze period. Shaanxi province was a vital area for the cultural development of China. It was the capital of 13 glorious dynasties. The Shaanxi Provincial History Museum stands testament to the area's importance: it is a treasure trove of Chinese civilization. The museum is China's premier history museum and everything is world-class. The lines at the entrance can get really long at this popular attraction so get there early to avoid the crowds and to get a free ticket (4,000 free tickets are available every day, you must just present your passport to get one).<br /><br />

Banpo Village Remains

Address: Xian

Admission: RMB 35 (March to November), RMB 25 (December to February). Daily 8am to 5pm.

On a 538 square foot (50,000 sq metre) site east of Xi'an city, on the bank of the Chanhe River, are the remains of the ancient settlement of Banpo, dating from about 5000BC. The remains were discovered in 1953 by workers laying the foundations for a factory, and constitute the most complete example of an agricultural Neolithic settlement in the world. The site contains the ruins of more than 40 homes, 200 cellars, numerous storage pots, a collection of pottery and tools, a pottery-making centre and more than 250 graves belonging to a matriarchal community of the Yangshao culture. Apart from the adult burial tombs, and the burial urns used for children, digging in Banpo unearthed the remains of horses and pigs, giving some insight into the husbandry of animals during this period. There is an on-site museum, built in 1958, constructed over the excavation site with two smaller exhibition halls displaying the archaeological artefacts that have been unearthed at the site. More than 400 archeological sites comparable to this one have been discovered in and around the Yellow River Valley in China, giving the area the reputation of being the birthplace of ancient Chinese culture. If you are interested in archeology and ancient history Banpo is not to be missed.<br /><br />

Huaqing Hot Springs

Address: Xian

Admission: RMB 70 (March through November), otherwise RMB 40. Daily 9am to 5pm

The Huaquing Hot Springs, located about 22 miles (35km) east of Xi'an city, at the base of the Lishan Mountains, is where the ancient emperors bathed and relaxed in scenic surroundings. Huaqing is one of the Hundred Famous Gardens of China and the setting of the baths is very beautiful. The spa has been operating since the days of the Tang Dynasty, and its warm (109°F/43°C) mineral waters, containing lime, sodium carbonate, and sodium sulphate, are still enjoyed by locals and visitors today. The waters are particularly recommended for the treatment of dermatitis, rheumatism, arthritis and muscular pain. The ancient imperial bathing pools can be visited, including the Hibiscus pool, dating from the year 712, which has been restored and is open to the public. There is also a fascinating museum at the site containing building materials from the Tang Dynasty. Another attraction at the Springs is the Hovering Rainbow Bridge. This bridge reflects the sunset in such a way that it appears to be a rainbow. You can take a cable car up the mountain to experience the aerial view. Huaqing is the setting for a famous Chinese love story about the Emperor and his lover and this romance is the central theme of the attraction. You will only need a few hours here but it makes for a good side excursion on your way to the Terracotta Warriors.<br /><br />

Great Mosque

Address: Huajue Lane Xian

Admission: RMB 25 March to November; RMB 15 December to February. Open daily 8am to 7:30pm. Non-Muslims are not allowed entry during times of prayer, or into the main prayer hall.

The Great Mosque is the pride of China's Islamic community, which numbers roughly 60,000 in Xi'an city, and is a popular tourist attraction. The mosque is near the Drum Tower in the Muslim residential area. Islam came to China along with Arab merchants and travellers in roughly the year 600. The Great Mosque in Xi'an is the best-preserved ancient mosque in China, having been built in 742 during the Tang Dynasty. It is built in traditional Chinese style with platforms, pavilions and halls, and is rectangular in shape, divided inside into four courtyards. Visitors can explore the passages, courtyards and archways and admire the furniture and fittings, most of which date from the Ming and Qing Dynasties. The main prayer hall can accommodate 1,000 and its ceiling bears more than 600 classical scriptures in colourful relief. The Great Mosque is a rewarding travellers destination, particularly because the mix of Islamic and Chinese architecture and design is interesting and unique. It is surrounded by landscaped gardens which make for a quiet sanctuary and are worth strolling around. It is a place of worship though, so visitors should dress appropriately and behave respectfully.<br /><br />

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