Travel in China – Xi’an – Part Three
Guest Post – Ken MacAdams
See the previous posts from Ken on Xi’an, China. Part One and Part Two
“Discovered in 1974 by a peasant digging a well, the tomb area covers about 22 square miles. The main part of the emperor’s tomb has yet to be excavated, but three pits have been discovered and excavation work continues to this day. Some estimate that there are over 8,000 clay warriors at the site. These pottery figures of soldiers, horses and chariots leave no doubt that the emperor wanted a bodyguard in the afterlife. Pit 1 alone has yielded over 6,000 soldiers, plus horsemen and chariots. These soldiers are slightly larger than life size, and each is different from the others. The soldiers wear a variety of uniforms and body armor, different hair styles, and some sport mustaches. Some are kneeling – indicating they were archers holding now-decayed wooden bows or cross-bows, while others would have held swords or pikes. The figures are a fascinating link to a society 22 centuries ago.
This is the Bell Tower with contrasting modern buildings in the background.
During the daytime you can enter both the Bell and Drum Towers.
A few dynasties – and centuries – later, the Ming dynasty erected one of the most famous and best examples of ancient city walls. Construction of the still standing present day wall began on the remains of the old Sui and Tang dynasty walls. Encompassing the old city, the square shaped Ming Wall is 8.5 miles in circumference, 40 ft. tall, and about 45 ft. wide on top. It was purposely built wide enough that two chariots could pass by each other with ease. A moat surrounds the wall, and there were four gates into the city, one on the North, East, South, and West sides. The South Gate is the best preserved example with it’s massive archers tower still intact, along with the drawbridge. Xi’an’s Old City Wall is the only ancient wall in China to have survived the Cultural Revolution in its entirety.
This is an artist in the Art Gallery District who invited us in to join him for a tea ceremony. After visiting, he painted a calligraphy spread, and insisted we take it as a gift! Some of his work is hanging in the background.
Each Ming city had a bell and drum tower. The bell was sounded at dawn, and drum at dusk. The original bell no longer exists, but a replica stands on the corner of the tower. The bell and drum signaled the opening and closing the city gates. Several cities still have their bell and drum towers, but Xi’an’s is the most widely known of all of them. The Bell Tower was built in 1384 AD and the Drum Tower built four years earlier, in 1380. Today, both towers, and all wall buildings are outlined in colorful LED lights that come on at dusk. The lighting is tastefully done, and adds a special magic to the night air of Old Town Xi’an!
A few blocks away is Xi’an’s Muslim community. Within is the Great Mosque, surrounded by old houses and narrow streets. The Great Mosque survived the Cultural Revolution and remains as an Islamic place of worship. It was founded in AD 742, and the present layout dates from the 14th century.
About 146 BC, during the Han dynasty, Emperor Han Wudi launched a series of military campaigns against the warlike Turkish people to the Northwest. Merchant caravans followed the armies, and established routes that the Europeans later called the Silk Road. Originating in Xi’an, these routes formed links of trade and cultural exchange to the West. Paper, gunpowder, (both Chinese inventions), spices, silk, jade, and many other goods were carried by merchant caravans to the West.
The first contacts between adherents of Buddhism and the Chinese were made by the opening of the Silk Road. (It was via this same link that the Muslim faith came into China.) During the Tang dynasty, Xi’an became the main center for Buddhist learning in Asia. A number of monuments bear witness to the importance of Buddhism in the city’s history. Two prominent landmarks still standing today are the Big and Little Goose Pagodas. Numerous Chinese monks, scholars and translators are recorded having made the journey to India in search of enlightenment. It was at the Little Goose Pagoda where monks spent 20 years translating and converting the Indian language documents into Chinese. The Big Goose Pagoda may have been at tall as 12 stories, but either fire or an earthquake (historical documents vary) damaged the original structure, and it was reduced to 7 stories, as it stands today. You can climb 288 steps inside to the top of the pagoda. On a clear day, your efforts will reward you great views of the surrounding city.
Today, Xi’an continues to grow. By 1954 the city outgrew the Old City walls, and began to spread. The population today stands at about 11 million, of which I’m told 1 million are university students. Pharmaceuticals, electronics, and auto parts are among the industries here, and agriculture plays a significant role in the surrounding area.
In a culture significantly different from ours, I’ve made multiple friends and acquaintances that welcome me back year after year. Each visit I find new subjects to train my lens on, or in some cases, explore a new angle to shoot from. This land is intriguing, charming, and wonderful to experience up close and personal. It’s also a land that’s changing – and changing fast! I’m glad to be documenting some of the ancient along with that change.”
Ken has always loved to travel, so when he made a common connection with the fact that either a long day pounding the streets of some foreign city, or shooting the last dance at a wedding, a good part of his physical
weariness came from lugging around his big heavy DSLR. That’s when he started looking at alternatives – and ended up selecting Panasonic Lumix Micro Four Thirds gear.
Ken is rarely without a camera, and the next great photo travel experience – whether local or abroad – is always in the back of his mind! A longtime resident of the Four Corners, and when he’s not out on the road, he enjoys some of the great outdoor opportunities found there – mountain biking, hiking, and Jeeping.