Most people probably associate the city of Xian primarily with the Terracota Army. However, if you are in Xian it's impossible to miss out on the Muslim Quarter. This city has served as a capital for 11 dynaties over a period of 4000 years and had it's peak during the Tang dynasty, when the position at the eastern end of the Silk Road transformed it into a bustling metropolis. It was also during the Tang dynasty Islam was introduced to China by merchants from Arabia. Many settled and married Han women. This has resulted in a rich muslim culture and atmosphere.
When I was in Xian, seeing the Terracotta Army was a highlight. But a visit to the Muslim Quarter and especially the mosques was just as great an experience. The mosques in Xian are not exactly what you would expect from a mosque to look like.
The Great Mosque of Xian is located right in the heart of the Muslim Quarter This is one of the oldest and largest in China. It has an amazing combination of traditional Chinese architecture and Islamic art. There are several Chinese style pagodas, but the walls are decorated with islamic art making the place quite unique and definitly not like any other I have ever seen.
According to historical records preserved in the mosque, it was built in 792 AD during the Tang dynasty. The present buildings are not that old. The mosque has been restored and most of the present buildings are from the18th century, even though it has been established several hundred of years ago.
The wooden Memorial Archway
The Stone Memorial Gateway
We simply went through the whole complex with the little brochure we got when we bought tickets. The complex has four courtyards. In the first there is a 9 meter high wooden arch still intact, with glazed tiles and upturned eaves. The second has a stone arch with two steles on both sides. At the entrance of the third courtyard there is a hall which contains steles from ancient times.
The octagonal pagoda with triple-eaved roof houses the minaret. This minaret is certainly very unlike the slender towers in Arabian mosques. If I hadn't studied the signboards I would never have guessed it's a minaret!
In front of the worship hall
The Worship Hall
The big prayer hall in the fourth courtyard has place for more than a thousand people. It's not open for non muslims, but I read that inside the hall, all the pages of The Holy Koran are carved in 600 pieces of huge wooden boards – 30 of them are written in Chinese and the rest of them in Arabic.
There are houses on both sides, built to receive officials and generals who came to announce important matters from the emperors. The mosque is still used by the Chinese Muslims as a place of worship. The whole place offers a green oasis of tranquility which is a huge contrast to the bustling life in the narrow streets right outside.
But Muslim Street is a fantastic place to wander around. It seems as if you can buy almost anything! The variaty of food is excellent. Being there at night to smell the food cooked by the street will give you a hard time desiding what to eat! The Muslim Quarter is the perfect place to wander around and let yourself be amazed.
Sources: information boards and brochure at the complex.
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