Xi’an, China 2008

In July of 2008, I flew to China with a small group from my school district in Utah. Our first destination was Xian, China. Xi’an was the eastern terminus of the Silk Road, and played a very important part in Chinese history. Xi’an is the oldest of China’s four great ancient Capitals, serving as the capital city of 13 dynasties spreading intermittently across a 1,100-year period from 221 BC. A visit to Xi’an was at the top of my bucket list.

Map of Xi’an area

Pictured above, Xi’an lies on the Guanzhong Plain in the south-central part of Shaanxi province, on a flood plain created by the eight surrounding rivers and streams. The city has an average elevation of 400 m above the sea level. Xi’an city borders the northern foot of the Qin Mountains (Qinling) to the south, and the banks of the Wei River to the north. Hua Shan, one of the five sacred Taoist mountains, is located 100 km away to the east of the city.

The Bell tower on the Xi’an Wall.

Xi’an is known for its ancient and well preserved city. It all started about 6000 BC at the Banpo village. The next important step in Xian’s history was in 221 BC when the first emperor of the Qin Dynasty made Xi’an the capital of China from the Qin through to and including the Tang Dynasty which ruled from 618-907 AD. Barring some interruptions it was the leading trading city in China, being the terminus of the SI ZHOU ZI LU (Silk Road). Later, when sea transport improved, Xi’an’s importance gradually declined. Pictured above, the BELL TOWER is located at the junction of the city’s main streets. It has been restored, we were able to ascend the stairs and look around.

The “Small Wild Goose Pagoda” in Xian, China 2008

The Small Wild Goose Pagoda Scenic Area is made up of three main areas: Jianfu Temple, the Xi’an Museum and the Small Wild Goose Pagoda. Pictured above, the Small Wild Goose Pagoda was built between 707 and 709 A.D., and was so-called simply because it was smaller than the Great Wild Goose Pagoda.

From within the “Small Wild Goose Pagoda”, looking down onto the Jianfu Temple.

The Small Wild Goose Pagoda was originally 45 m tall and 15 storeys high but was damaged by the same earthquake as the Great Wild Goose Pagoda in 1556 and is now only 43 m tall and 13 storeys high. Unlike the Great Wild Goose Pagoda, each storey on the Small Wild Goose Pagoda diminishes in width as it rises, giving it its iconic curved appearance.

Small Wild Goose Pagoda Bell Pavilion

On the Small Wild Goose Pagoda Grounds, we visited the Ancient Bell, which is in the Bell Pavilion and has been preserved in its original condition since 1192. The bell weighs approximately 8,000 kilograms and has more than a thousand characters engraved on its surface. In 1993 it had to be repaired and welded, as it was damaged during the Cultural Revolution, but it has remained virtually unchanged since then. It was said that, back when the bell was first forged, its ring was so deafening that it echoed throughout the city.

Goofing around on a Terra Cotta Horse replica, outside the Shaanxi Museum.

Pictured above, the Xi’an Museum boasts nearly 130,000 relics that all relate to the history of Ancient China and Xi’an specifically. Most of these relics have been unearthed from tombs in the surrounding area. Pictured below, in the Shaanxi Museum, we found stunning jade ornaments, Buddhist statues, stone carvings, porcelain figures, Terra Cotta Warriors and famous pieces of calligraphy, and paintings.

Terra Cotta Soldier within the Shaanxi Museum

The Small Wild Goose Pagoda Scenic Area is one of the lesser known tourist attractions in Xi’an and, in spite of its elegance and natural beauty, it rarely attracts large crowds. This, coupled with its peaceful gardens and crystal clear lake, makes it one of the more relaxing sites to visit in the bustling city of Xi’an. Though the museum was only built in 2007, Jianfu Temple and the Small Wild Goose Pagoda both have histories that date back over 1,000 years ago.

I’m posing in front of the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda in Xi’an, China 2008

Pictured above, the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda, or Dayan Pagoda, is a true monument to Buddhist culture and architecture. It currently stands at a massive 64 m and is seven storeys high. It is square in shape, in-keeping with the Tang-style of architecture. The history of the pagoda began during the Tang Dynasty, when the famous monk, translator and traveller Xuanzhang entreated Emperor Gaozong to allow him to build a Buddhist pagoda in Da Ci’en Temple. The original building was completed in 652 A.D. and was made of rammed earth with an exterior stone façade. It was originally only 54 m tall and only five storeys high. Its main function was to house the sutras and figurines of Buddha brought to China from India by Xuanzhang. Xuanzhang spent a phenomenal 17 years and travelled through 100 countries to gather these relics, including 657 kinds of sutras. However, being made mostly of earth, the pagoda was not particularly stable. It had to be rebuilt in 704 A.D. by Empress Wu Zetian, who added five storeys to the structure, and was again damaged in 1556 by a large earthquake, which destroyed three of its storeys. During the Ming Dynasty it was once again repaired and renovated, and has remained virtually unchanged to this day.

The Terra Cotta Soldiers of Xian

The most famous site to see in Xi’an, a place everyone should see while in the city, is the museum which houses the TERRA COTTA SOLDIERS of EMPEROR QIN SHI HUAGDI (died 210 BC). He was the founder of the Qin Dynasty that ruled China from 221 – 206 BC. He was the man who unified China, standardized money, weights and measures and writing. He linked and extended the Great Wall.

I’m standing at the Terra cotta Soldier excavation site near Xi’an, China 2008

Pictured above, the subterranean vault of the Terra Cotta Soldiers is estimated to contain 6,000 terra cotta (clay) warriors, plus horses and remains of chariots.

Terra Cotta Warriors near Xi’an, China

Pictured above, the site has been roofed over. the facial features of each soldier is different; about 500 in battle formation was exposed in 2008. This complex is part of the tomb of Qin Shi Huangdi.

I’m standing near the Terra Cotta Soldier excavation site near Xi’an, China

Just outside this main display are two small buildings housing some of the warriors and chariots in one, and a bronze chariot with horsed and driver inside the other (pictured below).

The Terra Cotta Soldiers near Xi’an, China 2008

The Terracotta Army is commonly regarded as one of the Eight Wonders of the Ancient World and has received great international fame and praise throughout the years. In 1987 it was listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site and has remained one of the most culturally significant sites in China since the day it was first discovered. The Terracotta Army is located 37 km to the east of Xi’an city in the Museum of Qin Terracotta Warriors and Horses.

The Terra Cotta Army at the Museum of Qin Terracotta Warriors and Horses near Xi’an, China 2008

The mausoleum was designed to protect the Emperor and provide him with everything he would need in the afterlife. Thus the mausoleum is a necropolis, an immemorial, stone representation of the palace that Qin Shi Huang occupied in life, with offices, halls, stables, towers, ornaments, officials, acrobats and, most importantly, a lifelike replica of his army. The presence of the necropolis was corroborated by Sima Qian, who mentions all of the features of the Mausoleum except, rather bizarrely, the Terracotta Army.

Tumulus of Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi, founder of the Qin dynasty that ruled China from 221 to 206 BC.

Pictured above, the walk to the top of this artificial burial mound takes a few minutes. At the terra-cotta exhibit, my group saw a diorama of the layout showing the position of the tumulus in relation to the site of the terra-cotta soldiers. The tumulus, which has not yet been excavated, is sure to contain treasures.

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