Exploring the ancient city of Xi’an
22.07.2011 - 22.07.2011 30 °C
Our flight to Xi’an was smooth and uneventful. After a hectic few days in Beijing it allowed a couple of increasingly rare hours to catch up on both Blogs and reading. Descending into Xi’an the weather was much the same as it had been throughout our time in China, overcast and dull. Fortunately, by the time we arrived at hotel in this Terracotta city the light rain had stopped and we were free to explore the city labeled as the start of the Silk Road in relative comfort.
Xi’an is one of few cities whose medieval walls are still complete. Rising some 30ft and extending for 10 miles they would have dominated the surrounding area when originally constructed. Today, they overlook a sea of modern office buildings and rampant traffic systems. Yet entering the ancient city of Xi’an through the West Gate one can easily be reminded of ancient glories, even though little of the ancient trading capital remains.
Delving into the narrow alleyways and backstreets of the Muslin Quarter we are soon passing Chinese wearing the white Muslim skull caps so prevalent in this area. As quiet backstreets make way for busy vendor thoroughfares the sights and sounds, of spices, dates and freshly baked bread, remind one of an Arabian souk far more than a Chinese market.
The stalls of tourist vendors merge happily with those aimed at local trade with all manner of tourist paraphernalia from Terracotta army statues to silk purses available alongside unidentifiable food items that oscillate between the repulsive and intriguing.
Stumbling upon the Folk House we enter an oasis of calm in this bustling world. Reconstructed courtyard houses portray a past Chinese life of quiet tea ceremonies and puppet shows. Local painters demonstrate the familiar art of Chinese calligraphy painting with a few notable pieces now carefully en route back to the UK.
A short walk from this house can be found the Drum and Bell Towers’. Key landmarks of the Xi’an tourist trail. Now located in the centre of a busy traffic roundabout the Bell Tower would toll to signify the arrival of morning. The far larger and imposing Drum Tower would perform a similar function at night. Enormous in proportion it is easy to imagine how these single purposes buildings would have once dominated the surrounding landscape.
From the towers we are able to visit the Great Mosque, the largest in China. With construction beginning in the 8th century the mosque offers a strange but beautiful mélange of both Chinese architecture and Muslim religious necessity. A Chinese style landscape gives little sign of its Muslim nature, apart from a few palm trees close to the entrance. The minaret is curiously hidden within a Chinese pagoda with Chinese calligraphy predominant throughout what is an extremely attractive mosque. With, essentially, only the gardens open to visitors our visit it relatively brief and we are soon back in the hustle and bustle of the surrounding alleyways.
Ready for a brief respite back at hotel we hail one of the motorized rickshaws that continuously circle the streets. Termed ‘moto’ they offer two seats attached to a motorized scooter. More expensive than a taxi, for no discernible reason, they offer a fascinating vista of the narrow alleyways, as we dodge pedestrians and bicycles, trying to make use of the sidewalk also. As throughout China the bare bottoms of happy babies seem to predominate our journey with the Chinese, apparently, having only limited need for nappies. Curious as these scenes of human life pass by we are soon back at hotel.
A few cocktails has us pining for a relaxing evening in the comfort of our suite. Easy to get lost in, our accommodation boasts plenty of space to relax and so we enjoy our first ‘night in’ for some time. Ready for the warriors we are to meet in the morning.