For all I’ve written about the joys of China: terrific food, inquisitive locals and cuddly panda bears , I havent really said much about Xi’an, the city I currently find myself settled in. This is a major oversight because it’s a pretty interesting place!
This is the first part of a series of articles I’m planning about my temporary home in the middle of China. Xi’an isn’t the prettiest city, but it has some amazing jewels glistening in it’s dusty smog. Every week I want to present one of the city’s highlights to you.
It seems that people haven’t heard of Xi’an, but it’s actually one of the oldest cities in the world! The current city dates back over 3000 years and people have been settled in the area for at least 6,500. When London was just a small river port and Europe was descending into the dark ages Xi’an was the largest city in the world, and the capital of ancient China.
Xi’an was also the starting point of the famous silk road that connected the Far East with Europe. Muslim journeymen passed all along the route carrying spices and other riches from place to place. Descendents of these silk road travellers, known as the Hui people, still live in Xi’an today. You can find them in the part of town known as the Muslim Quarter.
The Muslim Quarter is probably the most vibrant and interesting neighborhood in all of Xi’an. Hidden in the shadow of the looming Drum Tower , the area is a rabbit warren of twisty streets and shops. It comes alive in the evenings with people in the streets, sellers hawking their wares and the aromas of strange foods drifting through the air.
The hidden centerpiece of this area is the Great Mosque of Xi’an. Finding it in the narrow streets is a challenge, but the actual structure is enormous. An aging beauty at 1360 years old, the mosque is built in the chinese style, absent of any minarets or domes. It’s still very much in use today.
If you visit Xi’an there is no doubt you WILL visit the Muslim quarter. The area is popular with tourists it’s true, but there is still very much that is authentic here, from the dozens of stalls selling unique snacks to the twisted alleyway restaurants and butcher shops. Small birds chirp in cages perched outside of shops, and kamikaze motorbikes zoom through the crowds. And everywhere great heaping baskets of dates for sale.