Sightseeing in Xi'an
Xi’an is overflowing with sights, from the big drawcards like the Terracotta Warriors and the History Museum to the more abstract pleasures of a wander through the Muslim markets. Many lie within the old city walls, which are an attraction in themselves, but if you have enough time there are sights outside the walls, and still more outside the city, from ancient temples, to pandas and holy mountains. Within the city it’s easy enough to walk, cycle or take taxis between the sights, but to get out to the outlying attractions you might want to take a tourist bus or join a tour. They are run by all hotels, with cheaper (and sometimes more adventurous) options run by the hostels.
The Bell Tower
Drum and bell towers around the country were used to mark out the time in days of old, but Xi’an’s are the most prominent of any large city and the Bell Tower dominates downtown, stranded in the middle of a large traffic circle. The original tower was located west of its current location in the old city center, but the triple-eaved, 200-foot, two-story tower you see today was built in 1582 under the Ming dynasty and restored in 1792. Inside the tower you’ll see intricate roof truss work, chime displays and, as you’d expect, a large bronze bell, although this is not the original. The balcony, which runs around the edge of the tower, offers views over the traffic across to the Drum Tower. To get to the Bell Tower you’ll need to take the subterranean passageway that runs under Bei Dajie.
The Drum Tower
The Drum Tower was built at the same time as the original Bell Tower and has remained in place ever since. The enormous drum was used to mark time, and in times of war, to warn citizens of impending attack. Both the Bell and Drum Towers are illuminated at night, and the Drum Tower offers attractive evening views over the plaza below and on to the Bell Tower. The tunnel through the center of the tower’s base leads to the Muslim quarter.
The City Walls
A wander or a bike ride along Xi’an’s 40-foot-high city walls offers great vistas and, given that the walls are completely flat, it’s a much easier venture than many of the other walls you might ascend in China! From the 500-year-old walls you can see the thronging new city, yet remain comfortably and quietly removed from it all. You can access the wall from any of the four major gates and can then walk, cycle or take an electric buggy. You can see as much or as little of its nine-mile circumference as you want.
There are watchtowers on each of the four corners and major gates in the north, south, east and west – the East Gate is worth stopping off at to see the replicas of ancient military contraptions, including a giant catapult.
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