Arriving from one of the larger cities by plane or train, the first journey into Xi’an past the homogenous suburbs lacks promise, for it is a multifaceted city- comprised of the ancient inner city, and the modern, functional outer city. Dividing the two is the ancient city wall, remarkably well preserved given its history dating back as far as the Ming Dynasty, and perfect to gain a new perspective on the bustle below. Best explored in the evening, late enough for the dense humidity and belligerent day tourists to ease, but early enough to look down on the city below and sample the relaxed and slow-paced atmosphere, the fortifications comprise China’s most complete city wall. Lanterns studding the circumference create photo opportunities aplenty, whether you choose to explore the 14km by foot, bicycle, or private buggy.
Undoubtedly the star attraction is the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Terracotta Army, clay soldiers and the playthings of First Emperor Qin Shi Huang meticulously and painstakingly dug up, in the largest archaeological dig this side of Jurassic Park. Whilst the army is slightly less exciting, standing in a huge warehouse gazing across rows and rows of lifesize figurines gives the illusion of a grandiose Warhammer set, and the immense scale of the project is certainly triumphant in its ambition to startle and intimidate.
Although much of Xi’an’s heritage and notoriety is derived from the Terracotta Warriors and City Walls, an afternoon sampling the smaller delights of the city should not be understated. Grab lunch in the Muslim Quarter (although do be careful not to end up with ‘rat on skewer’ or a Chinese equivalent thereof), and then meander over to the gorgeous Big Wild Goose Pagoda, perfect to escape the intense heat and seek an inner peace to match the lazy tranquillity of the surroundings. Stepping back out into the chaos as you head back toward the historic bell tower for sunset, one can hardly avoid the abrasive juxtaposition between the traditional and modern; for some Xi’an’s downfall, but for me a lesson in integrating architectural styles, learnt heritage and respectfulness.
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