Flew to Xi'an this morning and had the afternoon free to explore the city. Fascinating place: 3,000 years of history, the capital of 'China' for around 1,000 of them), and at its height during the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907AD) it was the largest city in the world with a population of over 1m. The city walls are, to quote from yesterday's post, 'awesome'; the current ones date back 700 years and form a 14km square around the centre of the city. The thing that struck me was its width, like a dual-carriageway.
Also saw the Drum Tower, Bell Tower and, perhaps most interesting of all, the Muslim Quarter. Xi'an is the eastern end of what was the Silk Road and has a large population of muslims. Fascinating to stroll around its lanes and soak in some non-Han culture for once: muslim food, headscarfed women, arabic scripts, posters of Mecca... I ended up in the Great Mosque which dates back to 742, which was when Islam was first introduced to China via the Silk Road. Architecturally, it was hard to tell it apart from a regular Chinese temple (eg. there was a pagoda instead of a minaret) but the main building had prayer mats and I heard the Call to Prayer just as I was leaving.
And I haven't even mentioned the Terracotta Army.