Uncovering the Significance of the Ancient City Wall of Xi’an

When you’re visiting Xi’an, one of the most impactful monuments you will see is the legendary ancient city wall, which surrounds the old region. Along with the famed Great Wall, it is one of the most well-preserved city gates in all of China.

Xi'an city

The genesis of the ancient wall

In Chinese culture, it is common practice to seek advice from the revered savants when one needs guidance on how to conduct oneself, in any and all areas of life. So, in the fourteenth century when the new Emperor of China found himself longing for direction, he looked to Zhu Sheng.

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The famed great thinker suggested that, in order to be the best possible ruler for his people, he focused his attention on ensuring that they are kept truly safe; he went on to express that the emperor would most successfully keep his people out of harm’s way if he would build a great city wall. A wall would serve as a solid form of protection, keeping the people of Xi’an in and under the watchful eye of the ruler, and consequently safe from the dangerous enemies that would be kept outside.

Xi'an at night

Seeing the truth in this piece of advice, the Emperor began to build a new, strong wall on top of the crumbling one that had been erected in dynasties’ past. From 1370 until 1378 the wall was worked on until it reached its first stage of completion.

Terracotta warrior

Over time, it was added on to and refurbished to counter any deterioration. In 1568, blue bricks were added to the exterior of the wall, which at the time was solely fashioned out of clay from the earth. But it wasn’t until 1781 that the structure took on a greater resemblance to the version that stands before us today. This change occurred in the Qing Dynasty and consisted of the addition of drains and crenels—which are those indents you see in structures that watchmen would historically shoot missiles out of.

Terracotta Army

Unfortunately, in the 1920s, the wall was bombed for the first time. A decade later, when the Japanese began their air bombings to take place as a result of the Second World War, further additions were made to the wall to protect the people. This meant new passageways were carved out as “escape openings”  and shelters were constructed within the base, where the people could reside safely during the bombings.

The City Wall Today

In order to commemorate its rich history and the great role it played in the protection of the people of Xi’an, the city wall was officially deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008. What this means is that its great value has been recognized by society, and as such it will not be left to decay in the ways it once did; instead, it will continue to be restored as time goes on—a great show of respect for Chinese history.


Today, when you explore the wall, you will notice it has a functioning moat once again, plus new gates that have been fashioned out of what was once crumbling portion of the wall. What is also notable is that all parts of the tower have finally been connected, and each of the dominant towers is beautifully refurbished—check out the Yangmacheng Tower for a good example!

The wall is built in the classic Chinese style of architecture; this means it has bilateral symmetry, and there has been an emphasis placed on its width, more so than on its height—this is the opposite of your classic, Western skyscraper. Regarding dimensions, its height is twelve meters, and its width is fourteen meters at the top and eighteen meters at the bottom. The entire wall spans fourteen kilometers in length.

Activities to Explore the Ancient City Wall

So, now that you have all the historical details and understand why this city wall is so significant, perhaps you’re ready to learn about the different ways in which you may take in all this grandeur for yourself. Traveling is nothing if not a chance for you to see things for yourself, right? Don’t worry; we’re on board. So, in light of this hands-on mentality, we’ve gathered some options for you that will allow you to see the ancient city wall up close and personal.

Get Hiking

There’s nothing quite like clobbering a hike. If the mood strikes, you should start at the South Gate, which is the most treasured of the four main gates because of what it represents in Chinese culture: the landmark wherein you meet special, honorable guests. Once you’re there, head Westbound and start your exploration. It’s the best way to explore not only the popular sections of the great wall but also the wild sections of the great wall.

Mountains in Xi'an

Cycle on the Wall

Feeling more adventurous? Take a bike and cycle the anciety city wall! This will serve as a bit of reprieve if you’re feeling a bit tired, and you’ll, as a result, be able to explore even more. You should try to do this at night if possible because the views you’ll get to absorb are that much more impressive when it’s dark out.

Bike in China

One caveat- come prepared with a water bottle. You don’t want to become dehydrated, right?

If you’re into this method of adventuring, you’ll simply need 40 yuan to rent a bike, and then you’re good to go for one and half hours. The best location to rent? At the bottom of the wall.

A Testament and Symbol of a Strong Nation

So much more than a mere piece of architecture, this wall stands for a city that has come together, uniting time and time again, withstanding war and famine.

Terracotta Warriors

What’s more, since it’s been continuously added to over time, it is a great testament to the history of Xi’an; it represents numerous dynasties that have risen and fallen over the past six hundred years, each making their own unique contribution to this impressive wall we now have the privilege of exploring today.

Will you make this rich piece of history a part of your travel itinerary?

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Cez Krol

Travel blogger at eTramping
Cez lives in China like a local for the past 4 years. Apart from speaking the language, he loves to discover more about this unique country of extreme contrasts. He shares his China experiences here at Sublime China and on his blog eTramping, so go and check out what's out there for you in China.
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