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Xi'an
Avg.Score:
 
3.7
Dining:
 
3.6
Entertainment:
 
3.3
Hotels:
 
3.5
Scenery:
 
4.0
Shopping:
 
3.9
Transportation:
 
4.1

Back when Beijing was still a small-time barbarian-plagued northern outpost, the area around Xi'an (Xī'ān, 西安) was the site of successive dynastic capitals, including the first to unite China, the Qin, whose legendary founder, Qin Shi Huang, ordered the creation and burial of the astonishing Terracotta Army, now one of China's top historical attractions.

Today Xi'an is a modern Chinese city, though the impressive Ming-era Xi'an City Walls, the Tang-era Wild Goose Pagodas and numerous other ancient relics constantly remind one of China's vast history. When you've had your fill of the past, the city offers excellent modern dining, arts & entertainment and shopping. Xi'an hotels make a great base for further exploration of historical Wei River Valley sites like the Terracotta Army, Imperial Tombs, pagodas, temples, museums, and the sacred mountain Hua Shan.

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History

Some of China's earliest inhabitants lived in the Xi'an area over a million years ago, migrating along the Yellow River, which today forms the eastern border of Shaanxi. At least 500,000 years ago, proto-human Lantian Man was living in the vicinity of modern Xi'an; you can see the fossil evidence at the Shaanxi History Museum. The Banpo Museum presents finding from a Stone Age village dating back to 4500 BC.

The Zhou Dynasty was the first to establish its capital in the area, ruling over northern China from Fenghao, just west of modern Xi'an. Among the relics recovered from this seminal period—the time of Confucious and Loazi—are chariots and bronzes. China's longest-lasting dynasty, the Zhou, were followed in 221 BC by the short-lived but powerful Qin, which forged a united empire from a confusion of warring states. The ancient Qin capital, Xianyang, slightly west of Xi'an and the home of the Terracotta Warriors, is where China's first emperor, Qin Shi Huang, ruled with legendary ruthlessness. He infamously attempted to destroy all remnants of the past by burying scholars alive and burning books; thankfully, copies of classic Confucian and Taoist texts survived his efforts. The Qin did not last long, falling to the Han shortly after Qin Shi Huang's death, but China's first emperor initiated many enduring elements of Chinese society: canals and roads; standardized writing, money and measures; and the Great Wall.

The Han expanded the empire, with Chang'an (today's Xi'an) as their capital. Trade flourished, and the city became the eastern terminus of the Silk Road, which reached all the way to the borders of the Roman Empire. Taoism flourished and, under the Emperor Wudi, Confucian principles were made the foundation of Chinese society. Chang'an was the center of the Chinese world at a time when only Rome rivaled it in power, sophistication and glory. Today's dominant Chinese ethnicity, the Han, take their name from this dynasty.

Han triumph was followed by several centuries of decline, descending into a civil war that saw the capital move from Chang'an to Luoyang in 25 AD. It was not until 582 AD that the Sui Dynasty reunited the empire and restored the old capital. The Sui soon gave way to the Tang, and Chang'an reached new heights of glory. The Tang laid out the city grid that exists to this day and Chang'an's population grew to over one million, making it the world's largest city. Buddhism spread throughout China and the arts thrived. Xi'an still boasts many reminders of Tang times, including Wild Goose Pagoda, built to hold translations of Buddhist texts brought from India. It was also during the Tang that Islam took root in China, as evidenced by Xi'an's Great Mosque.

After the Tang, Chang'an never regained its power and status, as the Song and Yuan Dynasties moved their capitals east. Emperor Hongwu of the Ming Dynasty rebuilt the city, renamed Xi'an, as a gift for his son in the late 12th century, but this did little for the city's overall fortunes. In 1899, Empress Dowager Cixi, de facto ruler of the Qing Dynasty, fled Beijing during the Boxer Rebellion, ruling from China's old imperial capital for two years until the anti-Western revolt ended in 1901. When the Manchu Qing finally fell in 1911, Xi'an Han Chinese massacred Manchu unfortunate enough to find themselves in the old Han and Tang capital.

The passing of empire lapsed into the chaos of the Sino-Japanese War and civil war between the Nationalists under Chiang Kai-shek and the Mao Zedong-led Communists. Xi'an was insulated from the worst fighting, suffering only a few light bombing raids by the Japanese. The city was, however, site of a curious episode known as the Xi'an Incident. In 1936, while staying at Huaqing Pool, Chiang Kai-shek was arrested by his own troops and forced into a short-lived anti-Japanese alliance with the Communists. By 1949, Chiang had fled, the Communists were victorious, and the PRC was founded.

Xi'an became a key city in the effort to development western China, and continues to play the role of economic gateway to China's west. A discovery made in the last years of the Cultural Revolution would lay the ground for Xi'an's ascent to the top tier of China's tourist cities: In 1974, farmers digging in a field discovered the Qin Terracotta Army. Two years later, Mao, who found much to admire in Qin Shi Huang's ability to unite China centuries before, died, and during the 1980s Xi'an was opened to tourism. It hasn't looked back since.

Climate

Xi'an is situated in the Guanzhong Plain, bordered by the Qinling Mountains to the south and the Weihe River to the north. The geographic location helps define the city's four distinct seasons. Summers are usually warm and humid with occasional heavy rains, though the average temperature rarely rises above 85°F (30°C). Winters tend to be dry and windy with average temperatures around 35°F (2°C). Spring (May) and fall (September) have the most pleasant weather.

Shaanxi guide | Xi'an attractions | Xi'an flights | Xi'an Hotels
Xi'an tours & activities | Xi'an on the China Travel Blog