Although located in the center of China, and the capital of Shaanxi province, the city of Xi’an literally translates to “Western Peace”. The city is most famous for its
Terracotta Warriors; however, it has much more to offer to any visitor interested in Chinese history and culture. Xi'an, the capital of Shaanxi Province, is located in the heart of the Guanzhong Basin, with the Weihe River running along the northern border of the city. Known as Chang'an in ancient China, Xi'an is a world-renowned ancient capital and one of the oldest cities throughout China. In fact, it was the first metropolis in world history, becoming the first known city to surpass 1 million inhabitants.
The first civilization in China, and possibly one of the first throughout the globe was known as the Banpo people. The museum today,
the Banpo Neolithic Museum, was discovered in 1953 containing burial grounds, housing, and hundred of artifacts. This site marks the beginning of Chinese civilization, thereby having an enormous influence on all following Chinese History.
The first dynasty, the Zhou dynasty, began in 11th century B.C., and as a result, Xi’an was the cultural and political center of China for 1,062 years. The area continued to thrive through 12 dynasties including the Qin, Han, Tang, and Ming. The continuous dynastic occupation kept the city beautiful and magnificent. More than two hundred and seventy palaces and temples were built while it was the center of hierarchical reign, such as the "Three Han Palaces" in the Han dynasty, namely Changle, Weiyang, Jianzhang Palaces, and numerous other palaces and watch towers. Following the Warring States Period, China was unified under the Qin Dynasty (221-206 B.C.). The first emperor under unified China, Qin Shi Huang, ordered the construction of the Terracotta Warriors and his mausoleum just east of Chang'an almost immediately upon his ascension to the throne.
The founding emperor of the Han Dynasty established his capital in Xi ’an and ordered the construction of his first palace, the Changle Palace. The building of this palace, which is translated into English as “perpetual happiness” , is traditionally regarded as the founding date of Chang'an, or Xi'an. A few years later the Weiyang Palace was built just north of modern Xi'an. In order to protect the capital, 194 B..C marked the beginning of the city wall, which took four years to complete. Upon completion, the wall measured about 16 miles (25.7 km) in length and enclosed an area of nearly 14 square miles (36 km2). At this time Chang‘an was considered the largest city in the world.
The Han Dynasty in Chang’an was also the starting point of the famous Silk Road. Emperor Wudi, looking for foreign allies, sent men to explore the east. He sent many goods in order to persuade other nations, including jade and silk, which became very popular abroad. Unfamiliar to those in Rome or Egypt who had worn wool or cottons, these empire’s citizens quickly grew an appetite for these exotic goods, so trade agreement had begun between China and foreign nations, and Xi ‘an was the center of it.
The Silk Road opened up China to all sorts of unfamiliar and wonderful ideas as well as material objects within the trade. Politics, relationships, philosophy, and religion were all influenced by exposure to new ideas. In 652 A.D., during the Tang Dynasty of China, a traveler and Buddhist Monk named Xuan Zang returned to Xi ‘an from India where he had spent 18 years studying Buddhism. He brought manuscripts Buddhist texts he intended to translate into Chinese. He was quite famous and respected, and became head master of the Big Wild Goose Pagoda when he returned from his expeditions. His artifacts and manuscripts were housed within the pagoda. Also built from 707 to 709 A.D. when Buddhism was solidified in China was the Little Wild Goose Pagoda, built next to the Jianfu Temple, not far from the Big Goose Pagoda. Xuan Zang’s life story is the inspiration for one of the seminal pieces of Chinese literature, Journey To The West. Its heavily fictionalized account of Xuan Zang’s journey also included one of Chinese and World literature’s most beloved characters, the mischievous Monkey King.
The Han Dynasty’s Chang'an City had been destroyed in a long serious of civil wars from 220 to 589 A.D. Therefore, the emperor built a new city just to the southeast of the old Chang'an City, called Daxing City. After the Tang Dynasty overthrew the Sui Dynasty and captured Daxing City, the first emperor of Tang renamed the city again as Chang'an City. Later, some subsequent construction and renovation projects were ordered. In the early period of Emperor Taizong, the Daming Palace was constructed, which was the political center of the whole dynasty later. The Tang Dynasty is known as ushering in the golden age of Chinese culture. Thus, as the center of the court, Chang'an was one of the largest commercial, political and cultural centers in the world. Beautiful palaces and temples were built all around the city to accommodate the imperial court.
The Huaqing Springs, located just outside of the city in an imperial palace, was a famous leisure spot for the Emperor Xuanzong. This picturesque palace was the holding place of his famous concubine named Yang Guifei, which the Emperor spent many days neglecting his duties. Since it was the center of imperial rule, the area around Xi ‘an also holds many mausoleums of the court. Most famous is The Qianling Mausoleum, an astonishing site 50 miles outside of the city, which holds great historical significance for China. It contains a unique joint tomb of an emperor couple from the Tang Dynasty, Emperor Gaozong and his wife, later Empress Wu Zetian, who is known as the first and only female empress in all of China. It is China’s “Valley of the Kings”.
However the reign did not last forever and Chang ‘an’s beauty steadily declined. More warring periods lead to the downfall of the Tang Dynasty and the city eventually lost its prestigious status. After the downfall of Xi’an Beijing became the capital, and continues that function to this day. In 1369, the Ming Dynasty renamed the city Xi ‘an and built the Xi an city wall, which is still standing today. It is one of only2 cities in China that still has their city wall intact. The region has been heavily influenced by the Tang Dynasty, from architectural style to food, and even to the city's very soul.
Today, Xi ‘an is the largest and most important metropolis in central China. Besides the large tourism industry, the city possesses other booming industries, including telecommunications, software, and aviation. The city also plays a vital part in China’s burgeoning space exploration program. Additionally, this prosperous and peaceful city attracts a great number of artists and poets to its parks and mountains (the famed Huashan
mountain is a short drive away), looking for inspiration from China’s glorious past, while also looking forward to her bright future.
and see the famous Terra Cotta Warriors.