Xi’an City Wall is A Symbol of Xian City
Xi’an City Wall (aka Fortifications of Xi’an), a military defense system in ancient times, is the largest-scaled, best-preserved, and most complete ancient city wall in China which was listed into first batch of national key cultural relics. It is located in the central area of Xi’an, Shaanxi Province, with a height of 12 meters (39.4 feet), a top width of 12-14 meters (13-15.3 yards). The city wall has been in a closed rectangle with a circumference of 13.74 kilometers (8.54 miles). The area inside the city wall is customarily called the ancient downtown. There are a series of ancient military installations on Xi’an City Wall, including the moat, drawbridges, gate towers, arrow towers, turrets, parapets and crenels.
Quick Facts about Xi’an City Wall
- Type: historical site, ancient fortifications of Xi’an
- Opening Hours: Yongning Gate (South Gate): 08:00-22:00; Zhongshan Gate:08:00-21:00; Changle Gate (East Gate), Anding Gate (West Gate), Anyuan Gate (North Gate) & Wenchang Gate: 8:00-18:00
- Time Needed: 1-3 hours
- Highlights: the best-preserved ancient city wall in China
- Ticket: CNY54 per adult
- Best Seasons: March-June & September-November
- Recommended for: history and cultural tour lover
When and Why was Xi’an City Wall Built? – The History of Xi’an City Wall
In Sui Dynasty, the old imperial city in Xi’an of Western Han Dynasty (202 BC – 8 AD) had been destroyed seriously. Therefore, a new city was built and completed in 583. As the capital city in Sui and Tang dynasties, it became the largest-scaled city in Chinese history. With the decline, it was shrunk in the last years of the Tang Dynasty.
In the early years of the Ming Dynasty, the run-down city wall was reconstructed and repaired massively. At that time, the dynasty was newly established; and it was prevalent to build the new city wall around the country, to strengthen the defense fortifications as well as to hoard the grains and food. What we see today is just that constructed mainly in the Ming dynasty. Although the Xi’an city wall was damaged and repaired a few times then, it is the best preserved in China.
The Gates of the Xian City Wall
Due to the low attack power of ancient weapons, gates of the city wall are the most possible points for the enemies to fight into the town or city. Thus, complicated defense lines are built to make sure the city was strongly fortified.
There are four main gates of Xian City Wall, which are Changle Gate (East Gate), Yongning Gate (South Gate), Anding Gate (West Gate), and Anyuan Gate (North Gate). These four gates are the original gates of the ancient city wall. In the period of the Republic of China (1912-1949), some new gates had been opened to facilitate access to the ancient city. So far, there are 18 gates in the city wall.
Besides the moat and drawbridges, three towers are built at each of the four main gates: floodgate (Zhalou in Chinese, controls the drawbridges), archery tower (with dense arrow holes, for observation and shooting), and main tower (last defense line, the entrance to the city).
Yongning Gate – South Gate
Yongning Gate, the south gate of the Xi’an city wall, is the oldest gate among all the Xi’an city wall gates. This gate was built in 582 AD in the early Sui Dynasty (581-618) when it was named Anshang Gate. In 904 AD at the end of the Tang Dynasty (618-907), the gate was left as the south gate in the reconstruction by the army stationed in Xi’an. Until the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), it was renamed Yongning Gate. The archery tower of Yongning Gate is destroyed in the war in the 1920s, making it the only gate with now archery gate now.
Anding Gate – West Gate
Anding Gate is the west gate of Xi’an City Wall, and it is a complete ancient castle. It was originally called Shunyi Gate, the middle gate on the west side of the imperial city in the Sui and Tang Dynasties. During the expansion of the city wall in the Ming Dynasty, it moved slightly to the south and was renamed to be Anding Gate, which meant peace on the western national frontier. Today, you can visit Anding Gate with its barbican, arrow tower, gate tower, and double doorways. Different from the common arrow towers, the gate tower of Anding Gate was mainly the military headquarters of the northwest general in the Ming Dynasty.
Anyuan Gate – North Gate
Anyuan Gate is commonly known as the North Gate, built in the Ming Dynasty. The word “Anyuan” implied the policy of conciliation adopted by the court to remote ethnic minorities in the north at that time. During the Revolution of 1911, its gate tower was burned down for the fierce battle, then in 1983, its gate tower and archery tower were restored when a renovation of the Xi’an City Wall was carried out.
Changle Gate – East Gate
Changle Gate, also known as the East Gate, is one of the oldest gates of Xi’an City Wall. The word “Changle” meant the wish of long-lasting joy and forever prosperity for the Ming Dynasty. In 1643, Changle Gate was hardly hit by Li Zicheng’s uprising army. It was rebuilt in Qing Dynasty and was repaired several times later.
Interesting Facts about the City Wall
- Unique southwest watchtower
There are four watchtowers in the four corners of the city wall. The one in the southwest is round while the other three are square. It is said that there was a granny who was tortured by her son and daughter-in-law in the Ming dynasty. After being reported to the local government, the son and his wife were killed here where the southwestern watchtower is located now. In Chinese ancient culture, the square shape has the meaning of good virtues like honesty, but the couple was not honest at all. To remind the following generations, the original design was changed.
- Numbers on the bricks of the City Wall
When you walk on the City Wall, you will find that each brick under your feet has a number on it. These numbers function as today’s QR code. In the 1980s, the City Wall was destroyed during the war. Since 1983, authorities began to restore it. At that time, there were no advanced technologies. To make work more efficient, they numbered every brick so that they can find the person who restored this brick when problems occurred. These numbers show people’s wisdom.
- Thicker width than height
In ancient China, the City Wall functioned as a defensive system to protect the city. The walls are 12 meters high, 12~14 meters wide on the top, and 15~18 meters on the base. The width is thicker than the height because it will be very steady in this structure.
- Not only defense
We all know that the moat is the first line of defense of Xi’an City Wall. It was principally used to protect the city in ancient Xi’an. But nowadays, the moat plays an important role in the drainage system. When a rainstorm occurs, the pouring rainwater flows from the drainage system on the City Wall into the moat so that flood can be prevented. The wisdom of ancient people still benefits us in many ways.
What to See on the Xi’an City Wall
Parapet Wall and Crenels
The parapet wall was built on the inner and outer edges on top of the city wall, to protect the top and defend against the enemy. It is the traditional defensive building necessary for the ancient city wall. In the Ming Dynasty, the parapet wall on the inner edge was 0.75 meters (2.46 feet) high and 0.45 meters (1.48 feet) thick. With the same thickness, that on the outer edge was 1.75 meters (5.74) high. Getting on the city wall, you’ll also see the gaps on the parapet wall with an interval of 0.6 meters (2 feet), which are the crenels. There are 5,984 crenels on the Xian city wall in total, retaining the structure in the Qing Dynasty.
A watch tower is an ancient tower constructed on the watch platform of the Xi’an city wall. In the Ming Dynasty, there were a total of 98 watch platforms protruding outward of the city wall, and each watch platform was built with a watch tower. The watch towers were all double-eave two-story buildings in traditional Chinese style, which were used to defend and store supplies and gears during wartime, and for the guards to observe the situations outside of the city. In peacetime, they were shelters from the wind and rain for the patrols.
An archery tower has four floors. There are dense small windows on the outer wall of the arrow tower for defensive counterattacks, with 12 windows on each floor. On the brick side walls, there is no window on the first floor, but three windows on each upper floor. When the enemy attacked the city wall, the defenders could retreat into the arrow tower. With the windows on the arrow tower, the defenders could look out, or release arrows from them. If the arrows were fired outwards at the same time through all the windows, it would be extremely powerful at war. There is a wooden door for each arrow window, so the window could be closed when in danger.
Turrets (Corner Towers)
The turret, or called corner tower, is a kind of attic built on the platforms in the four corners of Xi’an City Wall, and it’s also an important facility for the city wall defense project. Like a water tower, the platforms of turrets expand outsides, and the soldiers there could observe the situation of the enemy out of the city with an opening view. In wartime, soldiers in the turret could not only fire arrows but also cooperate with the defenders on both sides. The four corner towers of the Xian city wall are not exactly the same in their architectural form, as they have been rebuilt repeatedly in history. Now, only three corner towers on the southeast, northeast, and northwest corners can be seen on the Xi’an city wall.
About 667.5 meters (730 yards) east to the south gate, Kuixing Tower on Xi’an City Wall is dedicated to the god of learning- Kuixing. The building was first built in 1619 during Emperor Wanli’s reign of the Ming Dynasty. It is a platform-based structure with flying eaves, a steep-sloped spire, and exquisite patterns.
Outside the Xi’an city wall, there is a moat that runs around it which is wide and deep and forms part of the defense system at the City Wall in ancient times. A huge drawbridge was built on it which will be lifted to cut off the access to enter the city when in wartime. Nowadays, you can enjoy a stunning bird-view of the moat on top of the city wall, and go boating on the moat after getting down from the city wall.
Top Things to Do on Xi’an City Wall
- Cycling on the wall
Do you want to take cycling on the Xi’an City Wall? It’s a quite popular activity there. At any of the four main gates, you can find the bicycle rental station.
You can enjoy your cycling on the Xi’an city wall for 3 hours while watching the cityscapes outside and inside the city wall. The bicycle can be rented and then be returned at any gate of the four. In addition to the rent, you need to pay the cash pledge of RMB 100 as well. There is an overtime charge of cycling, so you should arrange your time reasonably.
Rental station opening hours: at Yongning Gate: 08:00-22:00; the other three gates: 08:15-18:00
Price: CNY 45 for a separate bicycle; CNY 90 for a tandem bicycle
- Wonderful performances
At the South Gate, there are many wonderful performances, schedules as follows.
10:00/11:00(everyday): Warriors Cruise Performance
15:00/17:00(everyday): Warriors Shift Ceremony
20:30~21:20(only for Thursday to Sunday): Chang’an Impression–Tang Dynasty Grand Welcoming Ceremony Live Performance.
- International Marathon on Xi’an City Wall
Started in 1993, the International Marathon on Xi’an City Wall is held in December every year. The marathon starts at the east of Yongnng Gate, going through Wenchang Gate, Heping Gate, Changle Gate, Chaoyang Gate, Jiefang Gate, Anyuan Gate, Shangwu Gate, Yuxiang Gate, Anding Gate and Hanguang Gate, and finally finishes at the west of Yongning Gate. Total length is about 13.7 kilometers. If you like marathon, it will be a meaningful and impressive experience to come to Xi’an City Wall.
- Spring Festival Lantern Show on Xi’an City Wall
There is an annual Lantern Show during Spring Festival Holiday on Xi’an City Wall. It’s a totally folk art to demonstrate Chinese traditional culture and express people’s beautiful wishes for the next year. The lanterns in various shapes and colors attractes endless travelers and push the celebration of Chinese New Year into climax.
Travel Tips about Xi’an City Wall
- Visiting the whole part of City Wall on foot will cost over 3 hours. If you rent a bike or take the battery cart it will take about 1 hour to cover the whole part of City Wall. Cost depends on how long time you rent the bike or take the battery cart.
- In addition to the four main gates, visitors currently can also enter the Xi’an City Wall from some other gate, including Wenchang Gate, Heping Gate, and Shangde Gate.You may go to the nearest one for your tour.
- The South Gate is the welcoming gate of Xi’an city, and it is also the gate with the most
- Some brick surfaces on top of the wall are uneven, and you may feel bumps while riding a bike.
- At the four main gates, the sightseeing vehicle is provided. You can take the sightseeing electric vehicle and go around the city wall in about 50 minutes.
- There are more toilets in the southern section of Xi’an city wall, and the least in the eastern section and northern section. Besides, some toilets are temporarily opened.
- There are no shelters on the City Wall so sunburn prevention is needed. Or you can visit it in the morning or late afternoon.
How to get to Xi’an City Wall?
To Yongning Gate:
Take Xi’an metro Line 2 to Yongningmen Station, and get out from Exit A1 or D1, then you can reach the Xi’an city wall directly.
Take the city bus 12, 184, 193, 208, 221, 600 or 603 to Nanmen Li (inside the south gate) stop.
Take the city bus 6, 11, 12, 16, 23, 26, 29, 31, 35, 40, 46, 184, 187, 193, 203, 204, 208, 215, 216, 221, 222, 258, 311, 402, 512, 600, 603, 605, 608, 609, 616, 701, 800, or Tourist Bus Line 7 to Nanmen Wai (outside the south gate) stop.
To Anyuan Gate:
Take the metro Line 2 to Anyuanmen Station, come out from the Exit B or C, and walk south for about 500 meters (547 yards) in 10 minutes to find the North Gate and Xi’an city wall.
Take city bus 6, 9, 26, 28, 33, 37, 182, 208, 229, 236, 511, 600, 601, 608, 609, 616, 618 or 703 to Beimen Li (inside the north gate) stop.
Take the bus 6, 104, 138, 206, 228, 229, 266, 608 or 719 to Beimen Wai (outside the north gate) stop.
To Changle Gate:
Take city bus 22, 29, 33, 45, 139, 188, 218, 235, 263, 527 or 709 to Dongmen Wai (outside the east gate) stop.
Take the bus 8, 15, 27, 29, 37, 43, 45, 47, 102, 182, 203, 218, 235, 252, 300, 602, 604, 612 or 622 to Dongmen Li (inside the east gate) stop.
To Anding Gate:
Take the city bus 4, 15, 23, 31, 43, 45, 201, 215, 221, 222, 252, 300, 407, 611, 612 or 622 to Ximen Li (inside the west gate)/Children’s Hospital stop.
Stele Forest: the oldest museum in Shaanxi with a large number of ancient inscriptions on display. It is located inside Wenchang Gate, about 650 meters (711 yards) east of Yongning Gate.
Xi’an Bell Tower: the largest and best-preserved one around China, also a landmark in Xi’an.
Daming Palace Site: a world heritage site of the ruins of Daming Palace in the Tang Dynasty.