Xi’an

We’ve spent over two days in Xi’an, or Chang’an, as it used to be known, which was home to many ancient emperors.   On our first morning here we traveled about an hour out of the city to see the Terracotta Warriors. As we approached the site of the warriors we could see the nearby the mound covering the burial chamber of Shi Huangdi, the first emperor of the Qin Dynasty. The three pits holding the Terracotta Army were unbelievable. Shi Huangdi had these statues of warriors built all through his reign to protect his soul during the afterlife.

The warrior museum is set into three pits.  The first pit we entered has been half-excavated.  The life-sized soldiers stand in neat rows to greet you as you enter the football-field sized interior.  What is most remarkable is that every soldier – all 6000 of them- has different faces.  As you stroll along the walkway, trying to get a peek of the soldiers at every angle, you near the sections of the pit that are still being excavated, as well as soldiers and horses that are being put together by archaeologists.

Pit three holds the higher ranking terracotta soldiers as well as more horses.  There are over 70 warrior statues in this pit.  Pit two is believed to have about 1300 soldiers, yet few of them have been unearthed. Instead, archeologists are all still waiting for technology to advance in order for them to uncover the warriors without risk of losing the paint on the terracotta, a problem which plagues the statues that have already been excavated.  Right now, all the terracotta warriors that have been uncovered are the either black or reddish-brown in color.  When the statues were made, they were richly decorated with paint.  This has been seen as statues have been excavated; yet the air causes the ancient paint to immediately vanish.

Up at eye level around pit three are glass-enclosed warriors that you can see up close.  Here you can see how expertly crafted the warriors really are. You can even see the individual strands of hair which were carved into their heads.  Jeff, our guide, explained to us how to tell the different ranks of these soldiers.  Besides their shoes, dress, and hats that change with each rank, Jeff pointed out that they also get fatter. Therefore, the bigger the belly, the higher the rank!

Finally, we walked through the museum section of the site.  It was packed with people and very loud.  Here we were able to see much of the bronze work that was found during the excavations.

We then had lunch at a restaurant near the Terracotta Museum.  Here we sampled the signature dish of in Xi’an.  This is a bowl of extremely long, broad noodles only lightly dressed with oil and scallions.  It was one of my favorite dishes of the trip!

The next stop on our tour of Xi’an was the Wild Goose Pagoda.  This Pagoda is the symbol of Xi’an and was founded by Xuan Zang, a Buddhist monk during seventh century AD to house important texts that he translated with his students.  The Pagoda and its grounds were beautiful.  There are intricate carvings here that depict of the life of Xuan Zang depicting his travels to India where he improved his knowledge of Buddhism.  Then, he was able to return to China, build the Pagoda, and spend the rest of his life translating texts.  Much of the texts he translated are still very important to Chinese Buddhists today.

We then traveled to the Shaanxi History Museum.  This museum chronicles the history of this area of China from prehistoric times through the dynastic periods and the Silk Road.  Unfortunately, we’ve noticed that many of the pieces in museums here are reproductions.  Despite that, the museum had some interesting artifacts that were familiar to us, including Liu Bang’s small-scale terracotta army.

The next morning was a hot one in Xi’an.  The temperature was 38 Celsius, so not too different from the weather New Yorkers had been experiencing.  We started our day at the city wall.  Xi’an is one of the few remaining cities in China that still has an intact city wall.  Other large cities around China had them in ancient times but have since been demolished.  The wall was originally built during the Tang Dynasty but had been destroyed.  The current structure was built during the Ming Dynasty over 600 years ago. The wall is impressively large.  It completely surrounds the old section of the city with gates at the north, south, east, and west ends.  We went to one of the guardhouses at the south section of the wall and climbed to the top and look around.  Standing on the wall gave us great views of the city and the moat surrounding the wall.  The wall makes it very difficult to figure out where you are in the city.  As we drive around, it all looks very similar because the wall looks the same from every direction.

After visiting the wall we went to the Bell and Drum towers that used to act as town clocks.  The drum would be struck in the morning and the bell would ring in the evening. We then strolled through the Muslim section seeing the food, spices, fruits, and souvenirs for sale.  Eventually we ended up at the Great Mosque of Xi’an.  Supposedly, this is the only mosque in the world that was built in the Chinese style.  Because of the success of the Silk Road that was due in large parts to the Muslims living in Xi’an, the mosque was built as a thank you gift from one of the emperors.  It is still in use today although only on Fridays.

Finally, we ended our tour of Xi’an with a hot pot lunch –one of our favorites.  We frequently eat Japanese Shabu Shabu in New York, so this was like a taste of home!  Tomorrow we head to Shanghai.

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