Xi’an (often spelled as Xian and pronounced “she ahn”) was the ancient imperial capital of China for over 11 centuries. According to Xi’an natives, “If you want to see China over the past 100 years, go to Shanghai. If you want to see China over the past 1000 years, go to Beijing. But if you want to see China over the past 5000 years, go to Xi’an.” While this may be a slight exaggeration, there is no doubt that Xi’an’s history has been illustrious – 13 dynasties had the city as their capital. Xi’an, formerly known as Chang’an, was a key city on the Silk Route connecting Asia with Europe.
Much of this history remains buried, either literally — in the dirt surrounding regal burial mounds which dot the rural countryside — or amidst the sky-rise development that has swallowed much of the city. Yet Xi’an’s public spaces and charming alleyways manage to appear more authentically “Chinese” than Beijing’s grandiose plazas and avenues. The old Muslim Quarter is particularly colorful and worth exploring on foot. So far, Xi’an enjoys equal fame with Athens, Cairo, and Rome as one of the four major ancient capitals.
The Lantian Man, which was found in Lantian County of Xi’an, has inhabited in this land about 800,000 years ago. The founded skulls fossils is said to be the earliest and best preserved ones in China too date.
The Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-24AD), which is the third dynasty setting up its capital in Xi’an, constructed its capital -Chang’an on the relics of the Qin’s Xianyang. Once, Chang’an City was the largest one in the world, covering an area of about 36 square kilometers (13.9 square miles). Now, the site of the Weiyang Palace is preserved well in Xi’an. The famous ‘Silk Road’ which starts from the Chang’an City appeared during the period of Wudi, opening the communication between China and overseas countries.
With its abundant cultural relics and sites, Xi’an is a great place to visit. Renowned for the nearby Terracotta Army (bingmayong), other attractions include the World Heritage Listed Mausoleum of Emperor Qin Shi Huang, well-preserved Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644) city wall, the Bell Tower, Big Goose Pagoda, Small Goose Pagoda, Great Mosque, Shaanxi History Museum and nearby village of Chen Lu.
Xi’an is peppered with the enormous tombs of emperors, dukes, generals and other wealthy people who would commence building as soon as they achieved power. In 221 B.C., Ying Zheng (259-210 B.C.), King of Qin, became the First Emperor of Qin, (Qin Shihuangdi), when he managed to consolidate the neighboring states under his rule. He had begun work on his tomb shortly after becoming king of Qin at the age of 13, and the work took a staggering 39 years to complete.