One of the best ways to see history in person is by visiting the cities along the Ancient Silk Road. Religion was the driving force behind many of history’s greatest battles, and the force which leaders used to expand their empires. The faces numerous cities and villages reflect the styles, ideals and philosophies of the dominant empires that have come and gone. Their sacred places of worship in major Silk Road trading cities – usually the cathedrals, temples and mosques – are the first places to look at when in search of history.
Caravans linked lands and their people from the east to the west as the roads grew longer and trade grew stronger. The various caravan roads of the Silk Trade Route not only brought goods but also new ideas, philosophies, art, food, and religion. The Han Dynasty (141–87 BC) began it all in the 1st Century AD when it opened up its doors to the West from its capital Chang’an just northwest of Xi’an in central China. It was the center of the world and a perfect location for China’s capital city.
Xi’an quickly became Asia’s gateway to Europe
The Han established Chang’an as the starting point of the Silk Road, but it was the Tang Dynasty who used the route to expand China’s empire and to advance their society politically, intellectually and commercially. The population during the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 AD) grew to over 2 million – making this period the high point in Chinese history. Chang’an was up there with other cosmopolitan cities such as Constantinople and Rome. The capital city welcomed foreigners with people coming from Persia, Arab Nations, India, Malaysia, the Middle East and Near East to study and trade.
China’s Trade and influence expanded into Central Asia as they continually battled with the Turks for territory. Chinese art and culture – particularly Buddhism and poetry – began to proliferated into the western ends of the Silk Road and other parts of Asia. Many came to Xi’an to both trade and study. This is where the woodblock printing process first developed making the written word available to all. This technology is one of the many that began here and travelled to other parts of Asia and to the west via the Silk Road.
The Tang fought to keep control of its vast empire as wars broke out through the centuries. Natural disasters and rebellion gave a fatal blow to the Tang powerhouse. The anemic ruling party survived for a little while but was much to weak to make a full recovery. Their monopoly on the salt trade kept them going for a bit but the countryside was full of bandits who constantly undermined the weakened Tang military force. The king of the bandits and former salt smuggler, Zhu Wen, ended the Tang Dynasty by disposing its last emperor, Ai of Tang in 907. He established the Later Liang Dynasty.
Xi’an is more than the Terracotta Warriors found outside the city. Visitors should take the time and discover the beauty and peacefulness of the The Great Huajuexiang Mosque, eat some non-traditional chinese food in the Muslim Quarter and take advantage of one of the best free museum tickets at the Shaanxi History Museum in the land that charges you for everything.
Visitors travelling here on the overnight train from Beijing get dropped off right in front of one of the main gates that leads into the walled city. There are many things a traveler can’t miss when visiting. Here are three things any traveler can’t miss while in Xi’an besidesWalmart:
Eating streetfood in the Muslim Quarter:
even if you don’t know what’s in it
Visit the Huajeuxiang Mosque which has both beautiful Chinese and Islamic design work:
And of course the Terracota Warriors after you have visited the Shanxi History Museum: After I left the site where the terracotta figures where housed, I wondered how many of them were authentic if any. Still amazing to see and the museum does a good job educating visitors before trekking out to see them. Get out there as early as possible since the picture light is more direct and there’s less people.