Just behind the Drum Tower is the Muslim Quarter of Xi’an. Over its history, many Muslims have found a home there; I’m sure in part because of the end of the Silk Road. This neighborhood has many shops, restaurants and narrow, winding streets and alleys over cobblestone roads surrounded by centuries-old buildings.
Tucked away down one of the side roads is hidden the very unassuming Great Mosque. I expected to see a great big complex with tall minarets and onion domes but instead found a complex with so much Chinese influence that it would be hard to tell it is Muslim and not Buddhist or Taoist except for the absence of statues and incense and instead the presence of Arabic writing and Moorish motifs.
Some of the structures are centuries old and have been or are being restored. The central minaret is actually a short Chinese pagoda.
On our way to the City Wall, we came across a cool old Chinese archway and old looking buildings down a little street. At first I thought it was a market because all I could see down the street were shops selling random things. The end, however, provided me with a nice surprise, the large Taoist temple of Xi’an.
The biggest difference I’ve noticed between Chinese Taoist and Buddhist temples are the deities in the various buildings and some of the decorations. Other than that, they aren’t very different in appearances.
This temple had a main hall at the back with the god of the city in it. He was some general back in the day and according to the plaque it is he who basically decides your good fortunes or not, just make sure you’re not wronging him and all will be well. (I’m sure I don’t fully understand Taoism or the significance of the city god, so I’m sorry if I get it wrong. Please post a comment kindly informing me of the correct understanding if you know.)
In the side halls there were other gods and each has places to make offerings of money or fruit or incense. They were of course beautifully decorated with murals, amazing coffered ceilings and more. In the main court of the temple is a large archway, with a cool feature of a giant abacus on it. Just outside this is the large incense burner where people were praying and burning incense.
Another observation, on the way in and out people would stop by this one wall that had large carvings of a few Chinese characters and would either rub them or trace them as if they were doing the calligraphy. I’m sure the words were important and rubbing them brings luck or something.
The City Wall
Xi’an is the only Chinese city to have its complete city wall, albeit some of it is a reconstruction to join up the original pieces. The wall is very impressive though and worth a visit. Had it been nicer weather, I probably would have rented a bike to ride around the wall, but it was freezing and there was snow along the path.
We went up the west gate and worked our way around to the south where we knew the lantern festival was. By the time we got there, the lights were just turning on and we got to see the beautiful lanterns that are only up for a few weeks and are different each year. We didn’t have a lot of time because we had to get to the airport, but we had enough to walk through them all and experience it without completely freezing.
The most impressive lanterns were at the south gate where they had a big display of dragons for the year of the dragon. Further down the wall were lanterns depicting many arts from China, different regions of China and then different parts of the world. However, the Statue of Liberty and a set of big Greek statues were not lanterns just statues.
I have many more pictures in my Photobucket album. Please go look at them because my finger nearly froze off taking the pictures.