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Xian City Wall

Brief Introduction

If there is only one remarkable difference between  Xi’an  and  other cities, that would be the difference the city wall has brought to Xi’an! Xi’an, which was called Chang’an before, is one of the few cities in China where the imposing and towering old city walls still stand.The Xi’an City Wall is the best preserved and most complete wall that has survived through China’s long history. The wall was originally built in 582 AD in the Sui Dynasty (581AD - 618AD), and was expanded in the Tang Dynasty (618AD - 907AD). Today’s wall was built on the foundation of the ruins of the Tang Dynasty’s inner wall, and the wall that greets us today has been restored and repaired  many times over the years. The last massive renovation project took place in 1984 and this date can  be seen on bricks on the top of the wall. In the hundred years preceding 1984, the city wall of Xi’an lost about 1.2 million bricks. It looks pretty majestic and imposing today after being renovated. It is about 12 meters high, 12 to 14 meters wide across the top and 15 to 18 meters thick at the bottom. It tapers gradually from bottom to top. The entire city wall is about 13.7 kilometers in length. There are four main gates set in the middle of each wall facing in four directions.


City Wall

City Wall

Background Knowledge

What is a city wall? Why build it? In China, people always called a city, “Chengshi”, which literally means a walled settlement with a market for trading. The city wall surrounding a city often had four gates, each guarded by soldiers. They were the most important points of protection. The gates were closed and opened at a fixed time every day. Around the city wall was  a moat that cut off the only access to the city if there was  no bridge. In the cold weapons age, a fortified city wall played a vital role in protecting the city from all enemies.

At the end of the chaotic Yuan Dynasty (1271AD - 1368AD), before Zhu Yuanzhang (the leader of rebels that was struggling to overthrow the Mongol-led Yuan Dynasty and later became the first emperor of the Ming Dynasty) ascended the throne, one of his counselors advised him to ‘Build high walls, store abundant provisions, and take your time to ascend the throne’. So shortly after Zhu unified the whole country, he ordered city walls to be built on a large scale all over the country. The Xi’an City Wall was a result of that wall-building campaign.


Gate of City Wall

Gate of City Wall

Building Material

The wall was originally built with earth rammed layer upon layer. Bricks were stuck together by a mixture of earth, quick lime and glutinous rice extract, making the wall extremely firm and strong.

Three Defense System

The Wall has a complex and well-organized defense system. Take the South Gate as an example; it is comprised of three gate towers connected by walls, and a moat surrounding the whole wall. The gate outside of the city wall is the Drawbridge Tower, which is connected to the restored bridge by ropes and iron tackles. In ancient times, once the bridge was lifted by soldiers in the Drawbridge Tower, the only access to the city would be cut off. This was  the first defense system of the city.

The space between the Drawbridge Tower and the Arrow Tower is called ‘Moon City’ due to its crescent-moon-like shape. In ancient times, people who took their sheep and horses would stay there overnight to wait for the gates to open the next morning, so it is also called ‘sheep and horses city’. Standing on the top of the wall, you can see a wall-encircled space. It’s called  a barbican in English and Wengcheng in Chinese which literally means fish barrel. When enemies entered here, they would be shot by soldiers on the wall as if shooting fish in a  barrel. The Arrow Tower where  soldiers  hid themselves and shot arrows has been destroyed, leaving only the site here. This is the second defense system.

The tall and magnificent building separated from the Arrow Tower by a Wengcheng is the main gate tower, Zhenglou in Chinese. This was once the place where war instructions were given in ancient times. The gate under the tower is the main entrance to  the city. This is the third defense system.

Visit Xian City Wall with Lilysun China Tours


Other Highlights of the Wall

The crenellations were used for soldiers to see enemies far way. The square hole under each crenellation is for  shooting arrows. There are altogether 5,984 crenellations along the whole city wall. The inner wall also has a parapet but without any crenellations, for it is just used to prevent soldiers from falling down off the wall.

The structures jutting out of the wall at regular intervals are the ramparts. Soldiers standing on  a rampart  could see enemies who trying to climb up the wall. As the crossbows in the Ming Dynasty could only shoot as far as 60 meters, the distance between each rampart is just within the range of an arrow shot from either side. There are altogether 98 ramparts along the wall. The buildings on the ramparts are the sentry buildings for soldiers to rest and also for weapons storage.


Today’s Wall

Today, after repairs were made on the wall by the local government, the city wall has taken on a new look. It has become the  best place for Xi’an locals to celebrate many festivals such as the Lantern Festival on January 15th in the lunar calendar and the Moon Festival on August 15th in the lunar calendar. People also hold amusements  such as running races, kite flying festivals, culture and art festivals and other activities. The most famous one is the ‘Welcome Ceremony in Ancient Style’ which was once used to welcome  former American president Bill Clinton in 1998.

The wall also provides some amusement facilities for tourists, they can ride bicycles, take an electric cart or just jog or walk around the whole circumference of the wall.

Xian City Wall

Travel Tips

Location: City Center

Opening Time: Dec-Feb: 8:00 to 19:00; Mar-Nov: 8:00 to 22:00
Ticket Price : 54 RMB per person
Visiting Duration: Just Visit: half an hour
Ride Bicycle: two hours

Electric Car: one hour


Recommended Itineraries for Xian City Wall: Popular Tour to Terracotta Warriors Museum City Wall and Muslim Quarter

                                                                                       Walking—Biking—Chinese Calligraphy Class


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