When we travel we sometimes have a specific goal, landmark or event in mind we are traveling for or to. Last year as I have previously written about, I had the chance to visit China and visit one of my bucket list ‘to-do’ – walk on the Great Wall of China. A truly spectacular monument to the engineering and skill of ancient times it was amazing to be able to not only visit the Great Wall, but also spend a day traversing the ancient bricks and crumbling stairways. The wonderful thing about China though, is that there is so much more to see and explore whilst there, Beijing alone had so many places, landmarks and culinary delights to experience than I had ever imagined. That’s the great thing about travel, the experiences you don’t plan or even expect that surprise and delight you.
Funnily enough China has more than one wall to visit and explore.
When visiting Xi’an in China most people think mainly of the Terracotta Warriors unearthed at the tomb of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China. The hundreds of stone warrior statues and horses that line the three great pits are truly a wonder to behold. However, there is so much more to the city of Xi’an than that. Xi’an played a significant role in China’s cultural tapestry and stood as one of the Four Great Ancient Capitals of the country under several of the most important dynasties in Chinese history. It is also the starting point of the famed Silk Road that Marco Polo once traveled all those years ago. As a significant part of China’s history, and as a capital of the ancient country, it stood that the city was protected, defended and as such fortified, and so the City Wall of Xi’an was built.
The Xi’an City Wall was built in the 14th century during the Ming Dynasty, under the Regime of Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang. When Zhu Yuanzhang captured Huizhou long before the establishment of Ming Dynasty, he was admonished by a hermit named Zhu Sheng who told him to “build high walls, store abundant provisions and take your time in proclaiming yourself emperor.” Zhu Yuanzhang listened and heeded to the hermits advice. Once the country was unified and Zhu Yuanzhang Emperor, orders were sent to each local government to build city walls on a grand scale. Zhu proclaimed that “out of all the mountains and rivers in the world, the area of Central Qin is the most strongly fortified and strategically impregnable.”
Today, the City Wall of Xi’an remains one of the oldest and best preserved city walls in China. And the best way to explore it and the city of Xi’an, is to hire a bicycle (we hired a tandem one at that) and ride the nearly 14km distance of the wall as it encircles the now smaller city. You will pass the old brick tunnels, grand watch towers and bright red lanterns along the wall. You will pass the hustle and bustle of today’s modern buses and cars juxtaposed against the pageantry of ancient drums and grand temples of the city of Xi’an. Unplanned and unexpected, riding along the Great City Wall of Xi’an was an unforgettable experience that I am glad was not missed. As they say, sometimes the journey is just as enjoyable as the destination.