Xian Forest of Stone Steles
Stele Forest in Xi’an, or called Forest of Steles, is a national first-class museum as well as a treasury of ancient Chinese steles, most of which are extremely famous in art history. It is regarded as the oldest museum in China as being founded in Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127 AD). Nowadays, there are more than 11,000 cultural relics of steles and stone carvings. You will see the famous calligraphy art treasures of the past dynasties at one time. It consists of the Confucius Temple, stele forest, and stone carving exhibition halls.
Xian Forest of Stone Steles
Quick Facts about Stele Forest
- Type: historical site, specialty museum
- Time Needed: 2-3 hours
- Opening Hours: March–November (Peak Season): 8:00-18:30; December–February the next year (Low Season): 8:00-18:00
- Ticket: RMB 65 in peak season; RMB 50 in low season
- Highlights: the best calligraphy works in ancient China
- Best Seasons: All Seasons
- Recommended for: Chinese culture lovers, calligraphy lovers
- Location: in Beilin District, Xi’an, Shaanxi Province; beside the Wenchang Gate of Xi’an City Wall
History of the Stele Forest
Stele Forest can be dated back to the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD), as some texts were carved as the inscriptions on steles in the imperial college. Later, those steles were moved for several times in the unpeaceful period. Until the Northern Song Dynasty, the steles were moved to the place where the Stele Forest is located today, together with other valuable and famous inscriptions. The official college and Confucius Temple were also moved there. Since then, the Stele Forest was established. In the later dynasties, more and more inscription steles and epigraphs were collected, and the place was also repaired for times. The words “Stele Forest” were first seen in a record of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 AD).
What to See in the Stele Forest
Ancient Confucius Temple Complex
The Forest of Steles was constructed based on the ancient architectural complex of Confucius Temple in Xi’an. You could see the old courtyard complex with the screen wall facing the gate, and there are two Chinese characters meaning Confucius Temple on the screen. There are also archways, the pool in front of school in ancient times, ornamental columns, stele pavilions, and other antique buildings, most of which are the Ming and Qing (1644-1911 AD) architecture.
Finest and Most Calligraphy Steles
As the name implies, the steles are the most important collections in Stele Forest. Among a total of 12 exhibition halls, the steles account for 7 of them. In addition, there are also stele corridors and stele pavilions on display.
In the No.1 Hall, the original carved texts in the Tang Dynasty have been stored, which is the only complete inscriptions of the Confucian classics today.
In the No.2 Hall, you will see the best-known and artistic calligraphy steles written by the renowned calligraphers in Tang Dynasty, such as Yu Shinan, Liu Gongquan, Yan Zhenqing, and Ouyang Xun.
In the No.3 and No.4 Halls, the calligraphy steles from Han (202 BC – 220 AD) to Qing dynasties are on show. It is definitely a great opportunity to enjoy so many excellent calligraphy works in one place. In addition, you can also see the steles of local chronicles, poems and so on of different dynasties in No.5-No.7 Halls. If you were a calligraphy lover, these calligraphy steles cannot be missed absolutely, which would feast your eyes on the old Chinese art.
Splendid Stone Carvings
Forest of steles houses not only steles but also stone carvings in past dynasties, including the tomb carvings, Buddhist statues and more. You can see the carved stone bricks of Han Dynasty, the decorated stone coffin with reliefs of Tang Dynasty, Maitreya Buddha statue of Northern Wei Dynasty (386-534 AD), etc. The most precious are the relievos of Six Steeds of Zhao Mausoleum of the Li Shimin, Emperor Taizong of Tang Dynasty. Four of the six steed relieves have been collected in Stele Forest.
Xian Forest of Stone Steles
How to Get to Stele Forest?
Forest of Steles can be reached by taking the city bus 14, 23, 40, 208, 216, 221, 222, 258, 309, 402, or 800. Get off at Wenchangmen (Wenchang Gate) stop, and the museum is on the inter side of the city wall.
Besides, you can also take the metro Line 2 to Yongningmen Station, or take the city bus 12, 184, 193, 208, 221, 600, and 603 to the south gate stop. Find the Shuyuanmen Cultural Street on the eastern side inside the city wall, and go through the street for a few minutes to its end, where Stele Forest is just situated.
Stele Forest Visiting Tips
For a deep understanding of Chinese calligraphy, you are recommended to contact the tourist center in the museum for an English interpreter or guide service. Without interpretation, these steles are hard to understand.
If you want to visit both Stele Forest and Xi’an City Wall, there is a ticket package for these two sites, which costs only CNY 100 per adult, more cost-effective than buying two tickets separately.
To protect the steles and carvings, visitors are advised to turn on the flash while taking pictures.
Xi’an City Wall: Next to Stele Forest, it is the most complete and best-preserved city wall in China, which was constructed in the Ming Dynasty with a history of more than 600 years.
Shuyuanmen Cultural Street: This is an old pedestrian street from the south gate to the gate of Stele Forest. It was named as Guanzhong Shuyuan (the local official academy in Ming and Qing dynasties) is located on the street.