THE CITY WALL OF XI'AN

Xi'an, one of the oldest cities in Chinese history and the capital of the Shaanxi province in the People's Republic of China, was the second city we visited during our 15-day tour. We spent two days there - the 18th and 19th of October, 2009. During the first day of our stay we visited the City Wall of Xi'an in the afternoon.

It was said that when Zhu Yuanzhang, the first Emperor of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), captured Huizhou, a hermit named Zhu Sheng admonished him that he should 'build high walls, store abundant food supplies and take time to be an Emperor,' so that he could fortify the city and unify the other states. After the establishment of the Ming dynasty, Zhu Yuanzhang followed the hermit's advice and began to enlarge the wall built initially during the old Tang dynasty (618 -907), creating the modern Xian City Wall.

The fortifications of Xi'an, an ancient capital of China, represent one of the oldest and best preserved Chinese city walls. Construction of the first city wall of Chang'an began in 194 BCE and lasted for four years. That wall measured 25.7 km in length, 12-16 m in thickness at the base. The area within the wall was 36 sq km. The existing wall was started by the Ming Dynasty in 1370.

It is the most complete city wall that has survived in China, as well being one of the largest ancient military defensive systems in the world. The existing wall now stands 12 meters (40 feet) high, 12-14 meters (40-46 feet) wide at the top and 15-18 meters (50-60 feet) thick at the bottom. It covers 13.7 kilometers (8.5 miles) in length with a deep moat surrounding it. Every 120 meters, there is a rampart which extends out from the main wall.

The inner city was once the living place of the King of Qin. It was constructed on the high land in the northeastern area of the city. There the whole city were under control by its advantage of high position. Two continuous walls and a protective moat surrounded the residence.

Initially, the wall was built with layers of dirt, with the base layer including also lime and glutinous rice extract. Throughout the time Xian City Wall has been restored three times. In 1568, Zhang Zhi (the government officer of that period) was in charge to rebuild the wall with bricks. In 1781, another officer, Bi Yuan, refitted the city wall and the gate towers. More recently (since 1983) the Shaanxi Provincial Government restored the city wall again. A circular park has been built along the high wall and the deep moat. The thriving trees and flowers decorate the classical Chinese architecture of the wall, adding additional beauty to the city of Xian.

All together, there are 98 ramparts on the wall, which were built to defend against the enemy climbing up the wall. Each rampart has a sentry building, in which the soldiers could protect the entire wall without exposing themselves to the enemy. Besides, the distance between every two ramparts is just within the range of an arrow shot from either side, so that they could shoot the enemy, who wanted to attack the city. On the outer side of the city wall, there are 5948 crenellations, namely battlements. The soldiers can outlook and shoot at the enemy. On the inner side, parapets were built to protect the soldiers from falling off.

Since the ancient weapons did not have the power to break through a wall and the only way for an enemy to enter the city was by attacking the gate of the city wall. This is why complicated gate structures were built within the wall. In Xian, the city wall includes four gates and they are respectively named as Changle (meaning eternal joy) in the east, Anding (harmony peace) in the west, Yongning (eternal peace) in the south and Anyuan (forever harmony) in the north. The south gate, Yongning, is the most beautifully decorated one. It is very near to the Bell Tower, center of the city. Important greeting ceremonies organized by the Provincial Government are usually held in the south gate square.

Our tour group visited one of the gates of the wall and there we spent an hour. From the parking area where our tour buses waited, we had to climb a stairway to reach the top of the 40-feet high wall. On top of the wall I noticed that there were some tourists who rented bicycles or rode on small vehicles similar to golf carts that went around the 8.5-mile long wall. Since we didn't have enough time to do this, we just wandered around and took pictures. From atop the wall, we could see that the modern city of Xi'an has since grown bigger in area that you now get to see buildings, structures, and streets on both sides of the wall.

I found enough time to take a number of photographs during our visit the City Wall of Xi'an and you can view these by clicking on the link shown below:

The City Wall of Xi'an