Ranked among China's top heritage sites, the Xi'an City Wall also happens to be the country's only surviving city wall that is complete. While most of its contemporaries have withered with the passage of time, the fortifications of the city of Xi'an stand strong and as firm as ever. Considered one of the largest and oldest military defense constructions on the planet, the Xi'an city wall is a fascinating and engaging point of interest with a rich historic legacy.
At a Glance
Encircling the city centre of Xi'an in every direction, the city wall is a whopping 13.7 km or a little over 8 miles in length. Constructed in 1370, the city wall contains 4 main gates through which residents, merchants and tourists can enter. While most travellers prefer to sign up for a bike ride around the city wall, one can also walk around the periphery of the Xi'an city centre or hop onboard a sightseeing battery car.
Dating back to the time of Zhu Yuanzhang, the Ming Dynasty's first emperor, the city wall was constructed according to the premonition of a hermit called Zhu Sheng who instructed the monarch to safeguard his conquered land in Huizhou with "high walls". The hermit further instructed the emperor to unite the other city states and to store food supplies within the city walls, which were enlarged to suit the current emperor's needs from the remnants of a city wall that was built by the Tang Dynasty. Thus the Xi'an city wall is actually the refurbished extension of the Tang Dynasty wall surrounding Huizhou. Primarily made using dirt, glutinous rice extract and lime, the wall has undergone three restorations over the centuries. The most recent renovations took place in 1983 when the Shaanxi Provincial Government intervened to reserve the wall and also built the City Wall Park.
Size and Scale
Towering above the surrounding landscape at a staggering height of 40 feet or 12-14 metres, the Xi'an city wall is about 15 to 18 metres in width and is thicker at the base. With a deep moat running alongside it, the city wall is one of the best preserved fortifications of ancient China. The city wall, boasting 97 ramparts, was built primarily to discourage enemy attacks. The sentry buildings located in each rampart served as strong defense points, ensuring the city was well-guarded by its soldiers. The distance between ramparts also meant that soldiers could shoot enemies down with arrows. Boasting nearly 5600 battlements or crenellations, the city wall also contained a parapet to keep soldiers from falling off of the wall.
The City Gates
The four main gates of the city wall are named Anyuan, Anding, Changle and Yongning, words which are ironically associated with meanings of peace and joy in Chinese. The most beautiful gate among the 4 is arguably the southern gate called Yongning, which also sits close to the Bell Tower. The South Gate Square is also open to the public and is nearly 8 acres in size. Those based at lyf Dayanta Xianor or any of the other Xi'an apartments may be surprised to find that the square also contains underground parking spaces.
Visiting the City Wall
Tourists who wish to tour the city wall must understand that although there are 18 gates encircling the rectangular city centre, only a few allow admittance to travellers. The easiest way to enter the city centre is through South Gate, Hanguang Gate, Heping Gate and Wenchang Gate. Those who happen to be holidaying in Xi'an during festive periods in the local calendar can also take part in the annual Kite Festival, the Xi'an City Wall Marathon and the iconic Lantern Fair.