Introduction to Xi’an

The city I will be living and working in next month is Xi’an (usually pronounced “Shee-ahn”), which is in the Shaanxi province in Western China (Central, if you count Tibet…).  Xi’an means “Western Peace”.  Most Westerners know it for being the location of the Terracotta Army.

I visited the city in 2012 as part of my whirlwind tour of China and really liked the feel of the place.  The bigger cities, like Shanghai and Beijing, are ultra-modern with most of their history buried under Progress.  Xi’an has been modernised and is presented as a tourist-friendly place, but still feels very close to its history.



The city is over 6,000 years old (by comparison, London hasn’t yet had its 2,000th birthday) and is one of China’s Four Great Ancient Capitals.  The Silk Road starts here and connected China to India, Africa, Persia, Arabia and Europe as part of one of the world’s oldest and far-reaching trade routes.  Unlike most cities in China, Xi’an has a thriving Muslim population as well as the usual Buddhists and Daoists (Taoists).

The oldest part of the city is still contained within the ancient city walls, but the modern city spreads out far beyond this.  The old city is known for having maintained older Chinese architectural styles (or at least modern homages to them) as well as grand towers and pagodas that are big tourist attractions nearby.  When I visited in 2012, I got the chance to bicycle the circumference of the walls, which was great fun, but didn’t have much time to see most of what Xi’an is famous for, other than the Terracotta Army and the Muslim quarter.

Terracotta Army

Terracotta Army

One of the two central towers in the old town, the Bell Tower was built to suppress a destructive dragon (possibly)

One of the two central towers in the old town, the Bell Tower was built to suppress a destructive dragon (possibly)

The South Gate out of the old town

The South Gate out of the old town

Cycling along the top of the city wall was one of the highlights of my China visit

Cycling along the top of the city wall was one of the highlights of my China visit

Shopping streets

Like most of China, Xi’an is always bustling but much more peaceful than most

Although there probably won’t be much time for sight-seeing between teaching and lesson planning, I’m looking forward to exploring the rest of the city, meeting some of its people, and scoffing its tasty, varied food!

—db

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