Xi’an is precisely what I pictured most large cities to be like here in China before I came – a fascinating mesh of ancient and new forming something distinct. Dalian doesn’t have that. The city of Dalian – where I live for at least a couple more months – was founded in 1899 by the Russians. Even before that, it was a port/harbor, but not a lot was located here.
Xi’an, on the other hand, has been around for literally thousands of years, many of the structures several centuries old.
Roughly 4,000 years ago, the Qin Dynasty ruled from Xi’an. Not only was it the capital city, but it was also the location where the Silk Road originated!! I HAD NO IDEA!! Later Dynasties were greatly influenced by Western culture and art while somehow managing to remain distinctly Chinese at the same time.
As the point of power shifted away from the Silk Road, the capital eventually moved as well. While the walls and a number of monuments remained, the city dwindled in number. The economy was based on both agriculture as well as textiles (they specialized in porcelain… as in ‘fine china’).
In the 1950s, the remains of a Neolithic village were discovered near here – they named it Banpo (the images used for the name breaking down to meaning near a river but halfway up a hill/mountain/slope). There was some fascinating stuff with that one, but that’s for a later post and gets one all to itself.
Then, in 1974, one of the farming communities sent 4 men out to dig a new well. Something about agriculture and people needing water. These four men began to dig,but they didn’t find water. You remember the post about the Terracotta Army?
Yeah. That one.
So, if you recall, the government stepped in around 1979 to preserve the Warriors and the surrounding land. Suddenly, all eyes were on Xi’an as word spread far and wide, and I don’t just mean in China. People all over the world were talking about this spectacular Army, and they wanted to see it.
And what had become a town of farmers and textile workers suddenly exploded with tourists.
What does this have to do with the wall? Keep reading.
There is a city wall that is 13.74 km (which is roughly 8.5 miles long). It used to surround the city, but now it is more around the middle (since it currently has a population of 8.7 million people). I could see a portion of the hotel from my hotel room!
In order to preserve the FEEL of the city, honor what it once was and preserve the history located therein, the government passed an ordinance. Buildings inside the City Wall could be no taller than the Bell Tower that rested at the heart of the city. They could build all the skyscrapers they wanted outside of the wall (which they did). Outside of the wall, they were incredibly tall – you can see in the picture below.
But INSIDE the wall, they there was a different feel to the buildings around you, only part of that being that they were all shorter than the Bell Tower. There was a street that ran all along the inside of the wall, likely tradition from once upon a time, to provide some separation between the wall and the town.
On the outside of the wall, at least in front of the South Gate, there was a moat and a drawbridge.
No, seriously. A moat and a freaking drawbridge.
One of the things offered here is that you can rent a bike and go around the wall, so of COURSE I did that. Good heavens YES. It was a bit of a bumpy ride, and while I tried to record….
… well, it wasn’t pretty, and I finally gave up. Sorry. No video.
At each of the four corners of the wall were watch towers, small outposts where soldiers can keep an eye on things. These areas were slightly more elevated than the rest of the wall and beautifully preserved.
Then in the center of each side, you would have that side’s ‘Gate.’ With trade coming in from all over the country (and the Silk Road) of course they will have multiple entryways. These had a secondary wall where people would have to pass through into a courtyard and from there they could enter through into the city or, if they were soldiers, up onto the wall itself.
Once atop the wall, there were small buildings than the primary one over the entryway, several buildings spaced out. Yeah, more recently smaller rooms were built, these for businesses such as the concession stands or for the bike rentals. But the older buildings remain.
The wall itself was beautiful – not just the buildings atop it. Ok, maybe I have a thing for the stonework. They would have regular outcroppings – between the corner-posts and the gateway in the middle – and I suspect there were probably additional buildings there once upon a time, but I’m not really sure.
I’m not saying this old girl hasn’t had any work done – I’m pretty certain she has, in fact! Though I believe they’ve tried to minimize it. At most of the Gateways, they’ve been converted to allow traffic in and out, the roads curving to match with the wall rather than damage it.
I even found a stone with a pawprint in it. With this wall being there in the thousands of years and placed around the core of the city, I believe they’ve tried to preserve it as much as possible, and occasionally, yeah, that means they’re going to have to replace some of those bricks.
The ride around this was spectacular. If you’re taking the time to visit this lovely city (and there’s all sorts of reasons to do so!), I recommend you take a couple of hours to bike around the Wall. Yeah, it’s rough as hell, but so very worth it.