I don't know if there is anywhere else in the world where you can ride a bike on an old city wall. But in Xian it is possible. The ancient wall was renovated sometime in the 1980s. Thus, the wall is complete all the way around. In 2005 it became possible to get up on the wall and walk or cycle all around. The main reason for including Xian on our trip to China, was to pay the Terracotta Army a visit. But during our four day stay, we discovered a lot more we could do. Like doing a bike ride on the ancient city wall.
Xian is a city that has served as capital for 11 dynasties over a period of 4000 years. Emperor Qin Shi Huang lived from 259-210 BC and was the first to unite most of China into one kingdom. He was obviously keen on planning ahead in time, because as a 13-year-old he was already ordering the construction of the Terracotta Army to guard his grave. According to some estimates, more than 700,000 people have been involved in the construction of his army. The discovery was made by farmers in 1974 and today it'sone of the most significant archeological finds in the world. It's not finished excavated.
The ancient city wall is likely to be the first landmark many visitors will encounter on arrival. We came by train and since the railway runs parallel to the northern side of the wall it was our first encounter with the Xian. We had chosen to stay in a small hotel situated just inside the wall, so we walked along the wall when we went out.
Up until now, we had spent time visiting the Terracotta Army and exploring the Old Muslim Quarte. The last day before we continued our travel, we decided to see the city from another angle and at the same time get some exercise.
The city wall is surrounded by a moat, which has several gates. We chose to enter throug the South Gate, since our hotel was only a short walk from here. To enter though the gate, we cross the old drawbridge, which were used to cut off access to the city when it's raised. After passing the bridge we payed the entrance fee and on top we rented our bicycles and got ready to take the ride all the way around.
Chinese city walls were built as a defense system to protect the towns. Unlike most city walls in China, Xi’an’s walls are still intact, forming a 14 kilometer long rectanle around the city center. The first wall was built at the time of Emperor Qin Shi Huang. The wall as it stands today was built between 1370 - 1378 on the foundation of the walls of the Tang Forbidden City.
It may look like there are a lot of people on the wall, but there was plenty of room for everyone and we didn't feel like we were queuing at any point. It was a slow ride with stops along the way. Unfortunatly the sky is grey because of pollution which didn't make for a pretty background. But the wall itself is impressive and we did see a small cluster of low, old houses. It was great with all the information boards set up in different places. I think we made stops at each one of them!
We made a stop in the northwest corner to look at the Guang Lama Temple from above. An information board said explained that an emperor made a tour in 1703 to the northwestern part of China in order to stabilize his multi-ethnic region. It was then he issued a decree to have the Lama Temple established as a Palace hotel for Dalai Lamas and Pancheng Lamas. This temple is the only Tibetan Buddhist temple in province.
A few measuring facts about the wall: It's massive, meassuring 13.7 km. in circumference, 12 m. in height and 15-18 m. in thickness at the base.
Watch towers placed in each corner were used to station soldiers. It turns out to have been an important component of the wall defence system. From here the soldiers could observe the enemy and effectively guard against a sudden attack. At every 120 meters there are the flanking towers which were built to allow soldiers to see enimies trying to climb the walls.
Back at where we started
Cycling on the wall taking time to stop we certainly got the opportunity to admire the construction skills of the ancient Chinese people. When considering when the wall is built, it is an impressive piece of engineering.
Source: information boards on the wall
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