There is an old Chinese saying: “不到长城非好汉（bu dao chang cheng fei hao han ）”.It means “he who has never been to the Great Wall is not a true man”. As we known, the Great Wall is the symbol of China. If you come to Xi’an, you will see a very beautiful landmark around this ancient city. Through it, you can see China's ancient history and civilization. Yes, it is the Xi'an City Wall. Today, let’s visit the famous building together; explore the history and story behind it.
1. The history of the city wall
The fortifications of Xi'an, an ancient capital of China, represent one of the oldest and best preserved Chinese city walls. The city wall of Xi’an is an extension of the prior Tang dynasty structure. It is the most complete city wall that has survived through China's long history. It was started by the Ming Dynasty in 1370 and finished in 1378 and has a rectangular –shaped construction. It is over 4 kilometers from the east to west and about 3 kilometers from the north to south. And the total length is 13.7 kilometers. It stands 12 meters high, 12-14 meters wide across the top and 15-18 meters thick at the button. On the top of the city wall, there is a rampart every 120 meters apart, which extends out from the main wall. The top of the rampart is at the same level as the top of the wall. The ramparts were built to allow soldiers to see their enemies who would try to climb up the wall. The distance between every two ramparts is just within the range of arrow shot from either side. This allowed soldiers to protect the entire wall without exposing themselves to the enemy. There are altogether 98 of them on the city wall and each has a sentry building on top of it.
There are four main gates of the city wall-one on each side-named the east gate, the west gate, south gate and north gate. The four gates of the city wall were the only way to go into and out of town in ancient times. In Xi’an, each of the four gates consists of three gate towers (Zhen Lou JianLou ZhaLou). The main gate tower is called ZhengLou which is located on top of the main part of the city wall. It is the inner one and is also the main entrance to the city. Zhalou tower is the gate tower with a suspension bridge and located outside of the city wall. It's used to lift and lower the suspension bridge. Jianlou tower is the arrow tower and located in between Zhenglou and Zhalou towers. There are square windows in the front and on the two sides to shoot arrows. Jianlou and Zhenglou are connected by walls and the encircled area is called Wongcheng in which soldiers could be stationed. From Wongcheng, there are also horse passages leading to the top of the wall. There are altogether eleven horse passages around the city.
A watch tower is located on each of the four corners of the wall. The one at the southwestern corner is round, probably after the model of the imperial city wall of the Tang dynasty. But the other three are square and are higher and larger than the sentry building on the ramparts. This shows the strategic importance of the corners of the city wall in war times.
There are 5,984 crenellations along the outer crest of the city wall. Under each crenel there is a square hole, from which arrows were shot and watch was kept. The lower inner wall on the top of the city wall is called parapets. They have no crenels. They were designed to prevent soldiers from falling off the wall when traveling back and forth on top of the wall.
The city wall of Xi'an was first built of earth, rammed layer upon layer. The base layer was made of earth, quicklime, and glutinous rice extract, tempered together. It made the wall extremely strong and firm. Later, the wall was totally coated with bricks. On top of the wall, there is a brick water passage trough every 40-60 meters. They are used for drainage. They have played a very important role in the long-term protection of the city wall of Xi'an.
2. The landscape and the activity
The Xi'an City Wall is one of the most important tourist spot in Xi’an. It’s worth to visit, definitely. Firstly, take a look at what’s going on in the city and the different parts of it. Secondly, look outside of the city. If the weather is nice, you even can see the mountains around Xi’an. The wall is one of the most beautiful landmarks in Xi’an. Walking on the City Wall, you will have spectacular views of the Bell Tower, the Drum Tower, and the ancient center of the city. Traveling around the wall, you can feel every neighborhood and the diversity of city, everybody is different and the way they live is so visible. It’s one of the great things about Xi’an.
On the wall you can stroll along or rent a bicycle. They also have tandem bikes, you and your friends can enjoy a nice day cycling along the city wall, and further more enjoy the sights of Xi’an. There are two ways to circle around any side of the wall: bike of your own or the bike for rent. It is about 13 kilometers long, but it is worth riding. When you stroll or ride on the Xi’an City Wall, it can give you a sense of history of Xi’an. The wall creates a real atmosphere of ancient China and a fast growing modern city during the day and night.