Friday, January 22, 2010

Last day in Xi'an

Since we didn't have enough archaeology up to now we (or was it me?) decided to visit theShaanxi Provincial History Museum.

This scene depicts the daily life of Dali Man, a kind of Chinese Homo neanderthalensis. As you can see, the gym and weight lifting was already important 200,000 years ago, while the woman was obviously not interested in male show-offs and concentrates on her child instead:

This Neolithic chained double-ring was found in Jiangzhai, Xi'an City:

This Western Zhou Dynasty Chariot with horses was found in Zhangjiapo village near Xi'an. The chariot togehter with its horses was buried in a pit near the big main grave of a Western Zhou noble man:

And look at these birds! Aren' they just beautiful? From the Late Shang Dynasty (13th to 11th cent. BC):

This gilded bronze dragon is from Caochangpo in Xi'an (Tang Dynasty, AD 618-907):

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The City God Temple in Xi'an

Nearly every town in china has a city god or Ch'eng-huang. The belief in such a protector god preceeds Taoism but the idea was eagerly taken up by Taoist theology. The city gods are protecting the town or village and its inhabitants. During droughts they brought rain, they let the sun come out again after storms and heavy rains, they protected the crop, regulated birth, and, and, and..

The city god temple of Xi'an was built in 1387 (Ming dynasty) and was one of the largest city god temples of its time. It was also called the Capital City God temple, because the city god of Xi'an ruled over the city gods in northwestern China.

In 1966 the Red guards stormed the temple and turned the temple area into a flea market. Although the temple re-opened in 2004, there are still a lot of stalls and little shops in and around the temple. Since it was neglected during these nearly 40 years, it has an air of decay and eerie beauty about it, which actually is something very positive in this case. A bit like a haunted ghost town, you feel the burden of years and you can only imagine how splendid it must have been 600 years ago.

The intricate wooden carvings are still astonishing to look at.

I found it to be one of the most beautiful temples in Xi'an. Another day I utterly enjoyed.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Xi'an's ´drum and bell tower

The Xi'an drum tower was built by the first emperor of the Ming dynasty. The 34 m two-storey tower was built without using a single nail!
In China drums were not only used as an alarm in emergency situations, but also to signal the time. Along the north and south side there are 24 drums each one symbolizing a period of the ancient solar calender:

Here a close up:

Not only was there a small museum inside (you can see a stone drum here):

but we were also lucky enough to enjoy some musical performances:

Not far from the drum tower, in the heart of Xi'an, is the bell tower. The bell tower marks the geographical centre of the ancient capital of the Ming dyndasty. Main streets to the East, South, West, and North connect the tower with the four main gates of the city wall. Whereas the drums were beaten at sun set, the bell int the bell tower was struck at dawn. When the Tang dynasty bell fell silent (for whatever reasons that happened - I'm at a loss here and we didn't go to see the old Tang bell in the 'Forest of Stone Stelae Museum' so I just have to believe the story) a new one was cast during the Ming dynasty:

Here, too, a small museum could be found inside the tower and musical performances went on:

Enjoy a video the drums and bells of Xi'an:

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Xi'an's city wall

Xi'an's old city wall was built during the Tang Dynasty, in the second century BC when Xi'an was still called Chang'an. It measured more than 25 km in lenght and encircled a city of 36 km². The wall you can see today originated in the Ming dynasty (14th century) and encircled a much smaller city of only 14 km². The wall was built of earth; what you see today is an even later add-on of brick cladding.
The existing wall has four city gates and we entered through the southern Yongning gate, the gate of 'eternal peace':

Here you can see the top of the wall:

And a look below into a front yard:

It was cold this day. At first we wanted to cycle the 13 odd kilometers, then I voted for taking the little electric bus (a suggestion which wasn't received all too well). Then we considered taking a rickshaw, but a glimpse down and we saw a nice tea house. Well, if this isn't fate. So we decided to walk to the next little tower and then have a nice hot tea.

Pa opted for his usual jasmine tea which was remarkably beautiful:


A little bit outside of Xi’an you can find the Neolithic Banpo (半坡) site. The site which belongs to the Yanshao culture has two phases, the earliest (Banpo phase) dates between 4800-4300 BC. Banpo was a village surrounded by a moat and consisting of 46 houses, a pottery making area with a kiln, and a cemetery with 174 burials. It was also the first large scale excavation in China, covering nearly 10,000 m².

Banpo was an agricultural community with millet its main staple, but hunting and fishing had been an important part of their life, too.

I was very excited about this site and was not disappointed at all. Although excavated in the 1950s the museum site was well laid out with sections of the moat, the kiln area, the houses (postholes) and some skeletons from the cemetery, all exhibited under a huge roofed area.
Here is the entrance area ot the museum, seen from the inside:

And a fountain showing a Banpo woman fetching water:

Typical vessel ornaments are black decorations in the form of fish or antropomorphic heads combinded with fish:

But there are also simpler vessels for cooking like this coarsely tempered pointed one:

Reconstructions of the huts and houses:

And a glimpse of their burial rites. Most burials were rich in grave goods, although some carelessly thrown in bodies also appear. A single burial:
A multiple burial:

There were even English descriptions (I am glad the little girl enjoyed her coffin uniquely):

The visit had its drawbacks though. In my blissfull strolling through the exhibition I was totally oblivious of modern things like stairs etc. which had the unwelcome consequence that I fell down a couple of steps, badly squeezed my ribs, ruined my face (luckily they are quite often wearing face masks in China, so I went unnoticed), broke my camera, and was completely covered in dust and loess. The loess part was quite interesting.
Anyway, they had books in English at the museum, so I was happy :)
On our way back we stopped at the 'Big Wild Goose Pagoda', a Tang Dynasty (7th century AD) Bhuddist pagoda:

Originally built with 5 stories, it was topped up to 10 stories during the Ming Dynasty, but an earthquake reduced it again to the now visible 7 stories:

And this is just for the beauty of it and to celebrate a splendid day in Xi'an:

Monday, January 11, 2010

Xi'an and the Terracotta Warriors

Ok, this entry should have been much earlier. Various things kept me from posting. But now it is high time to show you some pictures of our fantastic holidays in Xi'an and Taiwan.
It was a long flight to Taipei, around 12 h, and of course our booking for vegetarian food was completely mixed up. I ended up with some 'raw food' lunch, i.e. some vegetables and fruits. Well, it was enough to survive, but since it was very cold during the flight I wish I had something warming to eat. In Taipei airport we were greeted by a group of buffaloes:

After a tasteless but nevertheless warming pot of ramen we had to leave again for our flight to Xi'an. A hotel van picked us up and soon all trouble was forgotten. The hotel was beautiful with very attentive staff and free afternoon canapés, yummie.
The next day was a very busy day. We had arranged a tour to the terracotta army museum. This is a picture of the first hall, and also the oldest one:

It is just as impressive as the photo suggests. I will not going into the detail of the funerary statues of the Chinese emperor Quin Shi Huang. You can read about in the wikipedia ( or somewhere else for a short summary or even better read an inexpensive book about it (
I'll just give you some pics to lean back and enjoy this mindblowing archaeological site.
Here is a view on a not yet reconstructed part of the army, what a mess. How many restorers does it take to rebuild them all:
On some statues one can still see some traces of colour, although most of the bright colours vanished quickly once the army saw the sun light again:

The famous kneeling archer:

One of the two bronze chariot models which were found in 1980 in two wooden boxes:

After a cup of tea in a nice tea house with our guide (a young woman who had studied history and English at university) we went to see the 'Tang Palace Dance Show' which included a dimsum dinner. Quite touristy, but nevertheless enjoyable. Let us not discuss the Tang dynasty authenticity here.

And here are super yummie vegetarian dumplings or dim sums from the Tang Dynasty Dance and Dinner Show:

An exhausting day, but also a very memorable day. Although I knew what was waiting for me, the terracotta army was just an overwhelming experience. I'm very glad I had the opportunity to see them live at the very site they had been buried more than 2000 years ago. All the exertions of the long flight were forgotten, this one day was worth it already.

But it doesn't stop here, so stay tuned in for more on beautiful Xi'an :)