The existing Xian Ancient City Wall was built from 1,370 to 1,378 AD under the order of the first emperor of Ming Dynasty – Zhu Yuanzhang (朱元璋). Long before the establishment of Ming Dynasty, Zhu Yuanzhang took an advice from a recluse: build up high walls, hoard abundant food supplies and take time to claim the throne. After he united the country and established Ming Dynasty, he started to build city walls all over the country. Xian Ancient City Wall was built at this time. Xian was once the capital city of Tang Dynasty (618 - 907 AD), once called Chang An (长安) at that time. The Ancient City Wall built in Ming Dynasty was constructed and enlarged on the foundation of imperial city wall of Tang Dynasty. Now, Xian Ancient City Wall is the largest and best preserved existing ancient city wall in China.
Chinese city walls were built as the defense systems to protect the cities or towns in China. Xian Ancient City Wall embodied the defense function perfectly. The rectangular city wall is 13.75km in length (about 4 hours walk), 12m in height, 12m – 14m in thickness at the top and 15m – 18m in thickness at the base. The width of the wall is thicker than its height, thus, the wall was stable as a mountain and the city was strongly fortified.
The ancient weapons were backward and the city gate was the only access way to the city, thus, the city gate was the key point of city defense system. There are four principle gates of the city wall, and each of them has five defense lines.
As the first defense line, the moat surrounding the wall has drawbridges before each city gate. As the only access, the drawbridges are laid down in day time to allow the entry and exit of people, and are raised at night to cut off the access to the city. The second defense line is the floodgate tower, which controls the drawbridges and is responsible for announcing the night watches and giving an alarm. Behind the floodgate tower is the archery tower, which is located outside the gate tower. Over 30m in height, the archery tower has a vertical outer wall and is densely covered with arrow hole, convenient for observation and shooting. The fourth defense line is the enclosed space between archery tower and gate tower, called barbican. Barbican is a semicircular or quadrate small city built outside the city gate to enhance the defense of the city. The four barbicans of the Ancient City Wall cover over 7000m2, if the enemies enter into the barbican, the garrison army will kill them from a high point, just like shooting fish in a barrel. The last defense line is certainly the principle gate. It’s extremely painstaking to break up the five defense lines for the enemy troops.
Except for the strong fortified city wall, there are four turrets at each corner of the city wall to assist the city gate in observing and defensing the surrounding enemy. There is a rampart tower extending out from the city wall every 120m, 20m in width and 12m in length, 98 rampart towers in total. The outer edge of the rampart towers and city wall is topped with crenellations for observation and shooting, called battlement. While the inner edge of the wall is topped with parapet to protect the soldier from falling off.
After you climb up the wall, the best way to visit is riding a bicycle around the wall. Of course, if you don’t know how to ride bicycle or you prefer more easy way, you can walk or take a battery car.
Time: about 2 hours
Rent fees: Regular bicycle: ￥45/2hrs, for overtime, ￥5 every 10mins. Tandem bicycle: ￥90/2hrs, for overtime, ￥10 every 10mins. The guarantee deposit is 200yuan per bike.
Where to rent: there are 19 city gates in total, and you can rent the bike at the four principle gates, for other small gates, you need to walk for a close distance to reach the rent site. Each rent site is on the wall, and you can rent and return at any of them.
Riding route: normally, people climb up the wall through the South Gate and ride a circle back to the South Gate. However, if you get tired, you can return the bike at any of the rent site.
Riding Notice: UV in summer is very strong, so it’s suggested to visit the wall before 10:00 a.m. or after 17:00 p.m., and use sun block and wear hat and sunglasses to prevent sunburns.
There are plenty of interesting performances at the South Gate Barbican every day, showing you the charm of the ancient Xian. The schedule of the performance is as following:
In the area enclosed by the Ancient City Wall, there are several attractions which are very close to the wall. Since they are all in the city center, it will only cost you several minutes to get these attractions from the city wall.
All built in Ming Dynasty, the Bell Tower and Drum Tower are the landmark of Xian City. The two towers are only several minutes’ walk from each other, and they are located in the two sides of the Bell & Drum Tower Square. Xian Bell Tower and Drum Tower are the largest and best-preserved bell tower and drum tower in China. To ascend the tower, you need to pay 35yuan for each tower, while the combination ticket only costs you 50yuan.
Next to the Bell Tower is the Muslim Quarter, where concentrates the essence of Xian food and snacks. Muslim style architectures stand amidst in the thousand year old Muslim Quarter. Popular not only in the tourists, but also the local people, Muslim Quarter is the best place to taste Shaanxi flavor.
Very close to the Muslim Quarter and Drum Tower, the Great Mosque is a perfect combination of Chinese classic architecture and Muslim architecture. Built in the late fourteenth century, the mosque had been marked with a classic architecture style of Ming Dynasty. Except for the gorgeous buildings, the colored painting decoration in the mosque will also bring a visual feast for your eyes.
Tourist Center is at the South Gate, which provides services like storage, resting area, consultant, clinic, and others. Besides, there are 12 public toilets on the wall, and ask the staff for locations if you need.
There are 8 different gates at Xian Ancient City Wall, namely the East Gate (Changle Gate, 长乐门), the South Gate (Yongle Gate, 永乐门), the West Gate (Anding Gate, 安定门), the North Gate (Anyuan Gate, 安远门), Heping Gate (和平门), Wenchang Gate (文昌门), Hanguang Gate (含光门), and Shangde Gate (尚德门). You can arrive at the City Wall based on your closest distance.
A: Xian Railway Station is located very close to the wall, and you can ascend to the wall through Shangde Gate from Xian Railway Station.
B: In the city center, you can take bus 321, 323, 402, 405, K600, etc. and get off at Nanmen Stop (南门站: South Gate Stop), and ascend to the all through the South Gate.
C: Metro line 2 has connected the Ancient City Wall with other places in Xian, and you can take this subway to get off at yongningmen Stop (永宁门) or Anyuanmen Stop (安远门) to get to the wall.
The weather in Xian is rather dry compared to the southern cities in China, so it’s better to drink more water and use some moisturizers. Strong UV is also a problem in summer, thus, use sun block, hat and sun glasses to protect your skin from the sun burns.
Mar – Jun / Sep – Nov are the best visiting time. Not too cold or too hot in spring and autumn, thus the two seasons are the best travel time. If you visit in summer, it’s advised to visit in the morning or the late afternoon.
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