After Beijing and Shanghai, Xi’an is China’s most famous city. There are plenty of good reasons for such an honor. The remarkable 3rd century BC Terracotta warriors are only a step away. The country’s grandest city wall surrounds Xi’an. Not only is the structure beautiful, but it has survived the pass of time majestically. Xi’an has a unique Muslim quarter and China’s biggest and prettiest mosque. The ancient Bell and Drum Towers and two impressive ancient pagodas complete the feast. Even Xian’s modern architecture has nothing to envy that of other megacities. It’s elegant, varied, and everywhere. To us, these are the 10 most interesting facts about Xi’an city.
01 Xi’an Is China’s Tenth Largest City
Xi’an is China’s tenth-largest city trailing behind Nanjing and Wuhan. According to the last Official Census of 2010, Xian’s urban population stood at 5.2 million people. At that time, some 6.5 million people lived inside Xian’s administrative borders. Since then, the urban population of Xi’an continued to grow and is now estimated to be 8.0 million. Therefore, Xi’an is the most populous city in Northwestern China. Just like most other Chinese megacities, Xian’s population is overwhelmingly Han Chinese. Of the more than 80,000 ethnic minorities living in the city, the largest are Hui, a Chinese speaking Muslim ethnic group.
02 Its Name Means Western Peace
Xi’an has had many names throughout its history. Perhaps we should say that several cities with different names occupied the territory of present-day Xi’an. In any case, the first name was Fenghao, then Xianyang, followed by Chang’an, Xijing, Daxing, and several other short-lived names. Xian’s current name is from 1369 (early Ming dynasty), and its meaning is Western Peace. That is, Xi stands for western and An for peace. The word Xi’an is a Romanization of how the name is pronounced in Mandarin. The accent indicates a two-syllable word. Previously it was Romanized as Hsi-an, Sianfu, and Sian.
03 Xi’an Is One of China’s Four Great Capitals
Xi’an has played an important role in China’s history. Different empires and regional states occupied the territory of present-day China. Consequently, many Chinese cities were capitals for short periods. However, only four cities were capitals for a very long time. Beijing, Nanjing, Luoyang, and Xi’an are known as the Four Great Ancient Capitals of China. From the 11th to the 8th century BC, Xi’an was the capital of the Western Zhou Dynasty. Later on, it was the capital of the Qin, Western Han, Xin, Eastern Han, and Western Jin dynasties. During the sixteen kingdoms period, it was the capital of three regional states: Former Zhao, Former Qin, and Later Qin. Finally, it was the capital of the Western Wei, Northern Zhou, Sui, and Tang dynasties.
04 The City Center Revolves Around the Muslim Quarter
Xian’s city center is in the middle of an ancient city wall. The area northwest of the Bell and Drum Towers is known as the Muslim Quarter. For centuries, Xi’an was the last stop of the Silk Road. Thus, many Muslims came and settled in the area. Today, they own all the shops and restaurants that line the three main pedestrian streets: Beiyuanmen, West Yangshi, and North Guangji Street. Though most of the quarter’s buildings are fairly new, the atmosphere is still very special. A few minutes southwards, close to the Yongnimen south gate, we find Defu Alley, Xian’s main bar street. This charming little alley full of coffee houses, bars, and tea parlors, becomes party central at night.
05 Xi’an Hosts China’s Most Famous City Wall
Xi’an city wall is one of the oldest, largest, and best-preserved urban fortifications in China. Hongwu Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang started building the wall in 1370 to defend the city. Following a hermit’s suggestion, he decided to build high defense walls around Xi’an before establishing the great Ming Empire. He built his wall over a centuries-old Tang Dynasty palace wall. It took eight years to finish the fortifications. Fortunately, both the Ming and Qing Dynasties took good care of the wall. The original structure was made with tamped earth, and later enhanced with layers of brick. The wall is 14 kilometers (8.7 miles) long, 12 meters high, and between 12 and 14 meters wide at the top.
06 Outstanding Historical Sites Dot the City
Xi’an hosts some of China’s most spectacular historical sites. The imposing Bell Tower stands proud on the intersection of two central avenues, in the middle of the walled city. The tower was built in 1384 during the early Ming Dynasty. It is the largest and best-preserved bell tower in China. The nearby Drum Tower is slightly older. Dating back to 1380, it stands at the entrance of the Muslim Quarter. The Giant and Small Wild Goose Pagodas are out of the city center and much older. The Giant Wild Goose Pagoda is from 652. Rebuilt in 702, its current appearance is from 1556. The Small Wild Goose Pagoda is from the early 8th century. UNESCO included both in its list of World Heritage Sites.
07 China’s Largest Mosque Is in Xi’an
The star of the Muslim Quarter is the outstanding Great Mosque of Xi’an. With a total area of 12,000 m2 (130,000 square feet), it is the largest mosque in China. The compound has 5 large courtyards and over 20 buildings. An exquisitely decorated central pavilion stands in each courtyard, with lush green plants all around. What makes this mosque unique is that it blends Chinese and Muslim influences. It is truly one of a kind. From afar, the mosque resembles a Buddhist temple, with every single detail carefully tailored. In fact, the temple has Arab calligraphy done in a Chinese style.
08 Xian’s Contemporary Architecture Is Surprising
In Xian, the architecture looks less modern than in other Chinese megacities. Numerous monumental buildings with Chinese style roofs dominate Xian’s skyline. However, a closer look reveals brilliant structures in between. The contemporary Midwest Commodity Exchange Center is a futuristic structure. The center represents the connection between east and west, fair trade, and a new way to develop. On the other hand, the undulating shape of the LAND Experience Center resembles Xian’s topography. The building is a state of the art exhibition center. Finally, the glass façade of the Xi’an Qujiang Art Center invites passersby to come in. The building blends architecture and landscape design delicately.
09 The Terracotta Warriors Are Near
When local farmers in Lintong County stumbled upon a figurine in their fields, they didn’t know they had discovered a treasure of colossal proportions. The Terracotta Warriors of Xi’an are a collection of over 8800 statues that represent the army of Qin Shi Huang, China’s first Emperor. The eccentric Emperor wanted to be buried with his impressive army so that it would protect him in the afterlife. In total, some 8000 soldiers, 500 horses, 130 chariots, and 150 cavalry horses remained buried next to the Emperor’s mausoleum for centuries. That’s not all: archeologists discovered figurines of acrobats, musicians, and state officials in other nearby pits.
10 Xi’an Metro Has a Unique Design
Xian’s metro is not one of the oldest or largest metro systems in China. Nevertheless, the system has five lines and keeps on growing. Originally, the metro system had two lines (called + system) that intersected in the city center. Xi’an metro never stopped growing. Today, Xi’an has four metro lines and an additional one that goes to the airport. Three more lines will open later this year. Xi’an has designed a metro that stands out, with a unique font and a logo representing the imposing ancient city wall. Additionally, every station has an icon that represents a nearby building or historical event.