After spending the morning exploring the famous XianCity wall we all headed to the Muslim quarter of this beautiful city. Here we got to explore the huge market and shop filled streets. As the starting point of the famous Silk Road, Xi’an attracted traders from the West since the 1st century BC. During the 8th century AD, Xi’an was the largest city in the world with over one million inhabitants, among which one third of them were foreigners. Walking past all these crafts I had to remind myself that every little thing adds weight to my backpack, otherwise I would have ended up buying loads of stuff. I couldn’t resist buying myself a fire red Chinese umbrella though. After getting lost in the winding alleyways we eventually stumbled upon the Great Mosque of Xian.
It is the oldest and one of the most renowned Mosques in the country, founded in 742 AD. This Mosque was a result of Islam being introduced into Northwest China by Arab merchants and travelers from Persia and Afghanistan during the mid-7th century when some of them settled down in China and married women of Han Nationality.
Unlike most mosques in Middle Eastern or Arab countries, the Great Mosque of Xi’an is completely Chinese in its construction and architectural style, except for some Arabic lettering and decorations, for the mosque has neither domes nor traditional-style minarets. The mosque looked more like a temple or shrine than a traditional mosque but was very peaceful and we enjoyed exploring the grounds. Landscaped with gardens, the further we strolled into its interior, the more serene the place felt.
The first courtyard contains an elaborate wooden arch nine meters high covered with glazed tiles that dates back to the 17th century. In the center of the second courtyard, a stone arch stands with two steles on both sides.
At the entrance to the third courtyard is a hall that contains many steles from ancient times. As we entered this courtyard, we saw the Xingxin Tower, a place where Muslims come to attend prayer services. A ‘Phoenix’ placed in the fourth courtyard, the principal pavilion here, contains the Prayer Hall, the surrounding walls of which are covered with colored designs.
In China, this Great Mosque is the only one open to visitors from 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Non-Muslims, however, are not admitted to the main prayer hall or during times of prayer.
That evening we had a fabulous dumpling banquet where we got to taste loads of different dumplings. Dumplings are cooked balls of dough. They are based on flour, potatoes or bread, and may include meat, fish, vegetables, or sweets. Some of our dumpling fillings included pork with Chinese cabbage, pork with garlic chives, pork and shrimp with vegetables and garlic chives with scrambled eggs. Most were quite tasty but some were a bit weird and ended up half eaten on my plate. This was the perfect way to end our first day of exploring the ancient city of Xian.