XI’AN is a name tingling with intrigue. One of China’s most famous cities, it’s synonymous with the mysterious Terracotta Army, standing in inscrutable silence just to the east. These are the most famous remnant from Xi’an’s extraordinarily long history – between 1000 BC and 1000 AD, it served as the imperial capital for no fewer than eleven dynasties, and as such it comes as no surprise that the place is filled with, and surrounded by, a wealth of important sites and relics. The list of newly discovered treasures grows with each passing decade; in addition to the Terracotta Army, highlights include Neolithic Banpo, and the Han and Tang imperial tombs. In the city itself, you’ll find two Tang-dynasty pagodas, the Bell and Drum towers and the Ming city walls, as well as two excellent museums holding a treasury of relics from the most fabled chapters of Chinese history.
However, visitors are also advised to prepare for a modicum of disappointment. Historically significant though it may be, today’s Xi’an is a manufacturing metropolis of five million inhabitants, filled with traffic and prone to heavy pollution – issues that can make trips to the outlying sights a bit of a chore. Yet most travellers are able to see past these failings, perhaps best evidenced by a large foreign community, many of whom come to study, since the colleges are regarded as some of the best places to learn Chinese outside of Beijing.