We arrived in Xian after a 17 hour train ride from Chengdu. This super long train ride was not as bad as I expected as we played some card games and I actually had a chance to catch up on my travel writing. Sleeping on the bumpy ride was a bit difficult though, so by the time we arrived in Xian at 5 am we were all a bit tired and grumpy. The only thing I could think of was having a shower and a cup of coffee.
Xi’an is one of the oldest cities in China, with more than 3,100 years of history. With so much history within the ground the city lies upon, it is no wonder that there are so many historical ruins, museums and cultural relics to be found here.
After checking into our hotel and went for a walk through the quiet streets of this historicity.
The Drum and Bell tower which is close to the south gate of the famous Xian City Wall was only a bus ride away from our little hotel. The Drum and Bell tower was erected in 1380 during the early Ming Dynasty. This early in the morning most places were still closed so we had to wait before we could get a cup of coffee. After a lovely ice coffee we headed for the beautiful City Wall!!
The fortifications of Xi’an represent one of the oldest and best preserved Chinese City Walls as well as being one of the largest ancient military defensive systems in the world. This ancient city wall stretches for 13.7 km round the old city with a deep moat surrounding it. The City wall stands 12 meters tall, 12-14 meters wide at the top and 15-18 meters thick at the bottom.
We entered through the south gate, Yongning (eternal peace), which is the most beautifully decorated of the four. It is very near to the Bell Tower in the center of the city.
We had the option of actually cycling the whole length of the wall or to take an open mini bus. All the other members of our China Odyssey group got ready for their 14km bicycle tour of the City wall.
Luckily for me mom wasn’t feeling up to it after that long grueling 17 hour train ride so we decided not to join the group and opted for the “soft option”. We ended up joining a group taking a little open bus that drove you along the top of the wall.
Every 120 meters, there is a rampart which extends out from the main wall. All together, there are 98 ramparts, which were built to defend against the enemy climbing up. Each rampart has a sentry building, in which the soldiers could protect the entire wall without exposing themselves to the enemy.
The first city wall of Xi’an was built of earth, rammed layer upon layer. The base layer was made of earth, quick lime, and glutinous rice extract, tamped together. It made the wall extremely strong and firm. Later, the wall was totally enclosed with bricks. A moat, wide and deep, ran around the city. Over the moat, there used to be a huge drawbridge, which would cut off the way in and out of the city, once lifted.
Driving along the wall we got to observe the Old city it surrounded and protected. It was quite sad that most of the original old houses are now gone and replaced by modern high rises and apartment blocks.
The gates of the city wall were the only way to go into and out of town. Therefore, these gates were important strategic points, which the feudal rulers racked their brains to try to defend. We stopped at each gate and got to explore the wall and surrounding area for 15 minutes before the little bus drove on.
In Xi’an’s case, the north, south, east and west gates, each consist of three towers: the gate tower, which holds the drawbridge, the narrow tower and the main tower. The gate tower stands proud of the wall. It is used to lift and lower the drawbridge. The narrow tower is in the middle. Its inner walls have square windows to shoot arrows from. The main tower is the innermost one, and forms the entrance to the city.
A watch tower is located on each of the four corners of the wall. The one at the southwestern corner is round, probably after the model of the imperial city wall of the Tang Dynasty, but the other three are square-shaped.
It was great as we got to see the whole wall and weren’t dead tired by the end of our adventure. I don’t think either one of us would have enjoyed our “wall experience” this much if we had peddle the whole 14km.
After the wall adventure we stood around watching people practice for an upcoming show at the South Gate. Important greeting ceremonies organized by the Provincial Government are usually held in the south gate square. We got to listen to the band and even watched the whole parade practice after which we went and had our photos taken with some of the “soldiers”.