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One of the oldest cities in China, Xi’an is the capital of the Shaanxi province and is one of the Four Great Ancient Capitals of China. When China was unified for the first time under Qin Shi Huang in 221 BC, he ordered the construction of the Terracotta Army, a project that he had been envisaging for many years. The collection of life-sized terracotta sculptures is a form of funerary art depicting his army, and was buried with the emperor on his death in 210 BC.
The Qin Dynasty’s capital was at the nearby city of Xianyang (located on the Wei River, a few kilometres from Xi’an) and from here Qin Shi Huang supervised the creation of the mausoleum, which mimicked the layout of Xianyang. It’s estimated that over 700,000 workers were on the project, the large number required because of the scale and the fact that each of the estimated 8,000 terracotta figures have different profiles and facial expressions. Halted a year after the Emperor’s death, much research on the site claims that all of the workers were buried alive on the site or after being poisoned, so that the secret of the mausoleum would be intact and safe from tomb robbers. His plan appears to have worked, as the site was only rediscovered in 1974, by farmers digging a well.Read more
Given the area’s rich history, there are other sites here as well that are worth exploring. Banpo Museum is based on a site of a Neolithic village, which was discovered in 1953. It’s estimated that the village existed as far back as 4500 BC. There is plenty of history to see in Xi’an as well, despite visitors being shocked that it’s such a modern city with a slant towards education and manufacturing.
In the downtown area of the city is the Bell Tower, built in 1582 and updated in 1739. You can visit the tower and get an idea of the city from the balconies that run around the outside of the structure. Nearby is the Muslim quarter, the traditional home of the minority Hui people, where you’ll find the Great Mosque of Xi’an, the largest mosque in China. It’s notable for only a subtle Arab influence in its architecture apart from some obvious Arabic calligraphy. Built in 742 it was rebuilt during the Qing Dynasty and is still in use today. There are also pagodas, temples, and the original city walls to wander around, making the city one of the most notable in China for preserving the old while embracing the future.