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Xi'an Travel Guide - Sights to See
Known in former times as Chang'an, this city served as the capital of ancient and medieval China for 1000 years. Though it may be old, it is not, in this writer's opinion, very interesting, and could easily be eliminated on a China tour except for one thing... those incredible terracotta figures. They, alone, just may be reason enough to visit China in the first place. Because Xi'an is old, it has the usual city wall surrounding it, but the wall is more or less intact. The city is also very dirty, even by Chinese standards, and the downtown section is surprisingly modern. Since the discovery of those terra cotta figures, Xi'an has begun to enjoy its new success and has become very commercial to the point of being the "rip off" capital of China.

The Bell Tower: This is often used as the symbol for the city and was built in 1384. It is 117 feet high and occupies over 10,000 square feet. On the north side of the balcony, there is an iron bell weighing 2 1/2 tons. Next to the Bell Tower is The Drum Tower, which is of similar construction. It was built under the Ming in 13/5.

Neolithic site at Ban Po village: This Neolithic site, which was an early matriarchal society was discovered in 1953. Excavation was completed in 1953 and a museum was built over "the digs", here you will see some of the foundations of early houses, pieces of pottery, and tools. It takes a lot of imagination to actually picture it. Basically, it looks like a huge section of grass-less earth with some holes in it. As an added touch, the Chinese erected a huge granite statue of a woman with bare breasts who stands at the front of the museum. A modern touch that seems very out of character. Recommendation: Unless you really understand archeology, you'll find it more interesting to stand outside in the courtyard/gardens and deal with the vendors. (The excavated village dates from B.C. 6080).

Big Wild Goose Pagoda: This pagoda, built of brick, was originally 5 stories high, but cracked a short time after it was constructed. During restoration, two more stories were added. Today, it is 225 feet high, with 4 arched doors leading to the interior. Wooden staircases allow access to the various levels, and there are nice views of the town from the terraces. In the courtyard is the Temple of Good Will, completed in A.D. 652. The first temple here houses 3 statues of Buddha. The next temple houses a gilt bronze Buddha and is much more impressive. The reason for the name "Big Wild Goose" is unknown.

Little Wild Goose Pagoda: This pagoda was built in A.D. 707 to house the writings of Buddha. Originally, it was 15 stories high, but was severely damaged in a series of earthquakes. During one of those quakes, the top two stories fell off and were not replaced during restoration.

Terracotta Factory: Here one can see how the copies of the life-size figures are made... supposedly like the originals.

Cloisonne Factory: This might be another factory you'll visit. If you don't know how Cloisonné pieces are made, you'll find it very interesting. You'll be able to look over the shoulders of the young ladies at they begin with a brass pot...glue on raised brass designs... fill the raised designs with enamel paint... and finally fire the piece. Naturally, there will be a shop here where you can buy the finished pieces. Because Xi'an is a "rip-off", the prices will be higher than you can buy them elsewhere.

Hot Springs of Hua Qing Palace: This is a lovely garden outside the city, which was constructed by the Emperor Xuan Zong. It's a favorite spot for the Chinese... and is typical of many gardens with water, pavilions, walks, etc. It has another claim to fame. Here is where General Chiang Kaishek was held prisoner in an unsuccessful attempt to get him to form a united front with Mao Zedong during World War II. The general managed to escape in such a hurry that he left his false teeth on the stand beside his bed. The Hua Qing Hot Springs has served as a resort for Emperors for over 3000 years.

Friendship Store across the highway from Hua Qing Hot Springs: After visiting the Hot Springs, you might be given an opportunity to visit this "Friendship Store" for shopping. It is my un-substantiated belief that this is not really an authorized Friendship Store, and that the merchandise is not top quality. Among the items you'll see everyone scrambling to buy are copies of the famous "terra cotta figures" that your tour is destined to see later in the day. These copies are not as good as the ones in the museum at the actual spot. The finish even comes off on your hands. But your local guide will be in no hurry for you to leave here. There are also vendors on the highway selling similar items... very cheaply. You will be told that they are inferior.

The Tomb of Qin Shi Huang Di: After leaving the Friendship Store, you'll pass the tomb. Hopefully you'll be able to stop. It's only a few miles from the Hot Springs. This emperor began to build his tomb at the beginning of his reign (B.C. 211-209), and thousands labored to complete it before his death. After completion, it was covered over with earth and planted with grass to make the tomb resemble a hill. Records indicate that all who worked on the tomb were buried alive so that they could not reveal the secrets of the design. If you only drive by the tomb, you'll be able to see a surrounding wall with an open gate... and the mound that is the actual tomb. It has not been opened. It is believed that the tomb was looted shortly after the emperor's death.
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Author of this article is Gene Gill. For more information visit his website: Gene Gill Miniatures.
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