Xi’an 西安, formerly Romanized as Sian, is the capital of Shaanxi province, located in the northwest of the People’s Republic of China.
One of the oldest cities in China, the city was known as Chang’an before the Ming dynasty. Xi’an is the starting point of the Silk Road and home to the Terracotta Army of Emperor Qin Shi Huang. It is one of the four great ancient capitals of China, having held the position under several of the most important dynasties in Chinese history, including Zhou, Qin, Han, Sui, and Tang.
The two Chinese characters “西安” in the name Xi’an literally mean “Western Peace”. During the Zhou dynasty, the area was called Fenghao, with the portion of the city on the west bank of the Feng River called Feng and the portion on the east called Hao. It was renamed Chang’an, meaning “Perpetual Peace”, during the Han dynasty (206 BCE–220 CE), although it was also sometimes referred to as the Western Capital or Xijing (西京) during the Han dynasty after the capital was moved further east to Luoyang during Eastern Han. It changed in 581 CE to Daxing (大興) during the Sui dynasty then again became Chang’an from 618 during the Tang dynasty. During the Yuan dynasty (1270–1368), the city was first given the name Fengyuan (奉元), followed by Anxi (安西) then Jingzhao (京兆). It finally became Xi’an in 1369 at the time of the Ming dynasty. This name remained until 1928, then in 1930 it was renamed Xijing (西京), or “Western Capital”. The city’s name once again reverted to its Ming-era designation of Xi’an in 1943.
Since the 1990s, as part of the economic revival of interior China, the city of Xi’an has re-emerged as an important cultural, industrial and educational centre of the central-northwest region.
The Bell Tower of Xi’an, built in 1384 during the early Ming Dynasty, is a symbol of the city of and one of the grandest of its kind in China. The Bell Tower contains several large bronze-cast bells from the Tang Dynasty. Its base is square and it covers an area of 14,822 square feet. The tower is a brick and timber structure and close to 130 feet high.
There are several legends regarding the Bell Tower, one of them tells:
There was a great river flowing across the center of Xi’an City. A dragon in the river was always active and caused trouble, so an earthquake occurred. An official of Xi’an government believed these words, so he ordered the blacksmiths of the whole city to make a several thousand feet of long iron chain in order to lock the dragon and sink it to river. He then ordered 5,000 craftsmen to repair the Bell Tower day and night in order to use the tower to restrain the dragon. He believed this would suppress the dragon firmly under the river and so it would no longer be active and cause trouble again. After establishing the Bell Tower, earthquakes never occurred in Xi’an again.
The wall surrounding the “old city” represents one of the oldest and best preserved of the Chinese city walls. Construction of the first city wall of Chang’an began in 194 BCE and lasted for four years. That wall measured 8.54 miles in length and 39–52 feet in thickness at the base. The area within the wall was roughly 14 square miles. The existing wall was started by the Ming Dynasty in 1370. It encircles a much smaller city of 5.4 square miles. The wall measures 8.5 miles in circumference, 39 feet in height, and 49–59 feet in thickness at the base.
When we visited Xi’an our tour guide told us that the function of the bell tower was to alert citizens of the inner city (within the still-standing wall) that the doors were closing. The drum tower, which is located near the bell tower provided notice each morning when the doors to the wall were opening.
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