Xi’an is a city in China. It is a former capital and one of the country’s main tourist cities.

Xi’an as a historical capital

It was the first capital of unified China during the Qin dynasty (221 to 206 BCE), then the Han dynasty (206 BCE to 220 CE), and much later on and for a longer period, during the Tang dynasty (618-907), under the name of Chang’an. It also owes its development to its location at the entrance to the Silk Road. Today with a population of eight million inhabitants – a city is an administrative concept in China – and covering over 861 km2 (by comparison, Paris covers an area of 105 km2), it is the capital of the province of Shaanxi.

One of the main tourist cities of China

Xi’an is a stopover city in the “Great Tour” of China which has at least four stopovers, including Beijing, Shanghai and Pingyao, other than Xi’an. It is thus one of the country’s most popular tourist cities ranking alongside universal destinations, i.e., destinations which in a given country are frequented by all the societies of the world (Violier, 2019).

The old city bounded by its surrounding wall is a touristified area that has preserved its traditional grid plan, based on the cardinal points. The city is visited for its ramparts (Ill. 1 and 2), in particular the drum and bell towers (Ill. 3), the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda (Ill. 4), and its Great Mosque, testimony of ancient trade with the Muslim world (Ill. 5, 6 and 7). Indeed, Islam entered China by the Silk Road and especially by Xi’an. The Hui district, the Chinese Muslims, also famous is very lively at nightfall (Ill. 8 and 9).

But the city is above all a stopover to access, 35 km away to the northeast, the mausoleum of the first Qin emperor Shi Huangdi, also known for having laid the foundations of the Great Wall. The tomb itself is still buried while pits began to be unearthed in 1974. They contain the famous terracotta army aligning thousands of armed warriors with their horses and chariots (Ill. 10). The site was classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.

Ill. 1. The easily accessible ramparts keep the modern constructions, visible in the background, at a distance (Cl. Philippe Violier, November 2015).

Ill. 2. Paid access to the ramparts (cl. Philippe Violier, November 2015)

Ill. 3. The imposing bell tower (cl. Philippe Violier, November 2015)

Ill. 4. The Giant Wild Goose Pagoda (cl. Philippe Violier, November 2015)

Ill. 5. A wall in the Great Mosque showing Arabic writings as well as the sinification of the mosque’s architecture (cl. Philippe Violier, November 2015)

Ill. 6. Hall of prayers inside the Great Mosque (Cl. Philippe Violier, November 2015)

Ill. 7. As is often the case in the Muslim world, access to the prayer room is reserved for believers (cl. Philippe Violier, November 2015).

Ill. 8. Nightlife in the Hui district (Cl. Philippe Violier, November 2015)

Ill. 9. Cooking skewers in the Hui district (Cl. Philippe Violier, November 2015)

Ill. 10. The terracotta army protected by the huge metal roof (Cl. Philippe Violier, November 2015).

Philippe VIOLIER


  • Violier Philippe et Taunay Benjamin, 2019, Les lieux touristiques du Monde. De la mondialisation à la mondialité. Londres, ISTE Éditions, 322 p.