Dispatches from Abroad: Walking around Xi’an – literally!

There are apparently two things that one must do when in Xi’an. One is to see the city wall. The other is to eat a bowl of yáng ròu pào mó (羊肉泡馍).1 Yesterday, post-doc Liu Wan-gang2 and I had the soup with the requisite pickled garlic and chili for lunch, (top left click for larger image) and then in late afternoon after a visit to the central tea market (top right and bottom row; click for larger image),

we walked around the city wall of Xi’an. Actually, on top of it. And if you visit and don’t want to walk, you can rent a bike or hop on an electric open-sided bus-let.

Xian south gate by day-20160825-AME-7294-small

We  walked across the drawbridge around 6pm, entered through the South Gate (above), and headed east.

The city wall is sort of like New York City’s High Line, but the city wall is a 500-year-old, 13-km rectangle with battlements and ramparts with sentry posts, and that is surrounded by a moat. The top of the wall is at least 10 m wide, and the paving stones have been nicely restored in the last decade. Original paving stones are still visible at the four corners of the wall (the southeast corner is shown below, left; click on the image for a larger version) and on occasional slopes. Of particular note is that the outside edge of the wall is about 0.5-m higher than the inside edge of the wall (below right, inside of the wall is to the right; click on the image for a larger version), so while walking on it counterclockwise, my left foot was always a cm or so lower than my right. I’m sure this would have disconcerted the various hordes who regularly tried to sack Xi’an over the last few centuries.

The battlements are regularly spaced every few meters, whereas the ramparts are 90 m apart. Along the top of each wall, there are also lanterns hung from lamp posts every few meters; the lamp posts are topped with a finial that changes with the side: a phoenix on the south (left; click for a larger image), a dragon on the east, a snake & turtle on the north (right; click for a larger image), and a tiger on the west wall.

The views from the wall across the city were simply stunning. To the inside, we could see older buildings, some restored or reconstructed to period architecture (left; click to enlarge), others reflecting classic revolutionary functional aesthetics (right; click to enlarge)..

Most were lower than the city wall, although that is changing as land prices soar and flocks of China’s state bird come in for landings.

Xian cranes-20160825-AME-7328-small

Outside the wall, we could see new high-rises and malls dwarfing Xi’an’s landmark Wild Goose Pagoda (far left) and Bell Tower (center and right); as it had rained much of the morning, we actually had pretty long views and clear-ish skies across the city. The daytime image is from the east wall; by the time we got to the west wall, it was already quite dark (click on each image to see a larger version).

The circumnavigating peregrination of the wall took us about three hours, long enough to go from dusk to dark; we exited the wall back at the South gate. Far and away the best exercise I’ve had since arriving in Xi’an, and outstanding company and scenery, too!

Xi'an view from the South gate-20160825-AME-7342-small

south gate-20160825-AME-7345-small

1pào mó is a traditional Shaanxi provincial soup featuring small cubes of bread, mung been thread-noodles, vegetables, and a smattering of meat for flavor. It comes with either lamb (mutt0n) or beef. I’d be remiss to not include a few other Shaanxi specialties I’ve had the pleasure of eating this week. These include (clockwise from top left) marinated bamboo shoots, okra with chili and garlic, chicken with cilantro, and exquisitely dry-spice rubbed fish (click to enlarge)!
2Wan-gang is a proud Xi’an native, and really likes to show off his hometown (he’s also the one who introduced me to tofu skin and beef stomach the other night: see “Eating across Xi’an”, posted a few days ago).

2 thoughts on “Dispatches from Abroad: Walking around Xi’an – literally!

  1. Freaking awesome. one question. you have this statement which I think needs to be corrected: The battlements are regularly spaced every few meters, whereas the battlements are 90 m apart. Do you mean guard houses are every 90 meters and something (what is a battlement?) are every few meters?


    Edie Cherkas Ellin
    Director of Administration | Harvard Forest | Faculty of Arts and Sciences | Harvard University
    324 North Main Street, Petersham MA 01366 | harvardforest.fas.harvard.edu
    Direct 978-756-6124 | Main 978-724-3302 | ellin@fas.harvard.edu


  2. thanks Edie! good catch. The battlements are the little notched spaces along the walls where soldiers could shoot out at invaders. The ramparts are every 90 meters, and that’s where the guard houses and command houses would have been. Some have been restored, others not.


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