Code: XA20

Ancient City Wall

Standing amidst a myriad of modern buildings, China's most integrated and best-preserved Ming dynasty City Wall has long been a widely admired landmark for visitors to Xian. Here we present you with a hiking route along the wall that will teach you about warfare, city construction and the architectural arts in ancient times. And it'll be fun, too!

Let's start the Xian City Wall tour by hiking from the South Gate (also called Yong Ning Gate, meaning eternal peace), which is the most time-honored gate among the four main gates (one for each side of the wall). For almost all Chinese dynasties, the south gate of a royal capital was always the site to greet distinguished guests. Those statues of the ancient dancing ladies, the red palace lanterns and the colorful flags in the South Gate square show that this old city still welcomes visitors from afar. You can buy an admission ticket at the north end of the square to get across the suspension bridge and the Zhalou, namely the gate tower outside of the city wall. There is also a ticket office right below the Zhenglou gate tower on the other side of the main city wall for visitors who come from the inner city. After mounting the wall and viewing the surrounding scenery, you will be surprised at how well the modern buildings fit in with the old architecture such as the wall and the Bell Tower.

South Gate

Performance at the South Gate

On your way westward, you might notice that there are ramparts, which extend out from the main wall. The ramparts were originally built every 120 meters with a sentry building on top to shoot any attackers who climbed the wall. This interval was not decided by accident, but by the fact that half the distance between two ramparts was the effective range of ancient weapons like the bow and arrow and crossbow. After walking about 1,050 meters, you will reach Zhu Que Gate. As one of the four divine creatures in ancient China, Zhu Que (rose finch) symbolizes the southern direction and the season of summer. Therefore, Zhu Que Gate was the south gate of the original city wall in the Sui and Tang dynasties, and the emperors usually held important ceremonies here. In 645AD, when the renowned Monk Xuan Zang returned to Chang'an (the ancient name for Xian) from his arduous seventeen-year journey to India via the ancient Silk Road, he was warmly greeted at the Zhu Que Gate by the chancellor, Fang Xuanling, and  other high officials who were instructed to represent Emperor Taizong of the Tang dynasty. According to historical materials, Japan's first imperial court in Nara was modeled after Chang'an city, and it had a replica of Zhu Que Gate as the main entrance, so one can imagine how famous and grand the gate once was. The original Zhu Que Gate was destroyed during a battle at the end of the Tang dynasty. The current one was built in the 1980s very near to the ruins of the original and is of great historical importance. It is now a major gateway to and from the city center.

Further to the west of the Zhu Que Gate, you can see the Wumu Gate, commonly known as the Small South Gate. It was opened in 1939 to commemorate Mr. Jin Wumu, an early outstanding member of Tongmenhui (Chinese Revolutionary League) who died a martyr during the bourgeois revolution of 1917. If you hike along the wall in the morning, you might see the busy early morning market, an indispensable part of the everyday life of the local people.

The next few meters walking to the southwest corner of the city wall, you will pass the Han Guang Gate, which is the best-preserved site of the capital Chang'an during the Sui and Tang dynasties (581 - 907). Here you can get down to the Han Guang Gate Site Museum to explore an array of relics, and the inner structure and the history of the city wall. You may also take a side visit to China's first thematic museum, focusing on calligraphy, located nearby. Neither of the two museums requires an extra admission fee.

Local people dancing in the City Wall Park

Children playing table tennis in City Wall Park

As you pass along the city wall, you can see a belt of recreational parks on its outside fringe. This belt is called Round-the-City Park. Of all these parks, the West Park is the largest extending more than 3 kilometers, from the southwest corner of the city wall to the northwest corner. It is open to the public for free and has fitness equipment, leisure facilities, lush trees, wide lawns, and ancient style buildings. Here you could observe the everyday life of the locals doing morning exercises, taking a leisure walk with their pet birds, playing table tennis, singing Shaanxi Opera, or just basking in the sun.

Walking north for about 850 meters from the southwest corner, you will arrive at the West Gate. In the past, it was called An Ding Gate meaning that the western frontier is harmonious and peaceful. Set up in 1374-1378 during the Ming Dynasty, the West Gate has all three of its gate towers, Zhalou, Jianlou (arrow tower) and Zhenglou, in a well-preserved state. With square windows (namely arrow holes) in the front and on both sides, the Jianlou tower, located between Zhalou tower and Zhenglou tower, formed another important defense line to guard the city gate. East of the Zhenglou tower, you can see a series of Tang-style buildings stretching out ahead of you all the way to the Drum Tower and Bell Tower. There is a viewing station north of the tower for visitors to better appreciate the imposing wall.

The next stop of your Xian City Wall tour itinerary is Yu Xiang Gate, which is about 1260 meters north of the West Gate. In 1926, Xian city was besieged by the warlord Liu Zhenghua for more than eight months, during which time many of civilians and soldiers perished in the fighting and from disease and starvation. The city was not saved until General Feng Yuxiang and his National Revolutionary army defeated Liu Zhenghua. In 1928, this gate was opened in memory of General Feng Yuxiang. A series of city sculptures – Zhang Qian's Diplomatic Mission to the Western Regions - stands at the square outside Yu Xiang Gate. Inside the gate, is Lianhu Road, one of the busiest east-west traffic arteries.

About 560 meters further north of the Yu Xiang Gate is the northwest corner of the City Wall. There, a Sentry Building, which was important to the inner city's safety, stands capturing visitors' attention. Right inside the corner is the only Lama temple in Xian, the Guangren Temple, which was built in 1703 when Emperor Kangxi came to Chang'an (Xian) during the Qing dynasty. From then on, it played a significant role in promoting national solidarity. With imposing white pagodas outside, stately buildings, leafy trees and flowers inside, the temple today is a nice quiet area in the bustling city.

On the City Wall

North Gate

After walking eastward for about 700 meters, you will reach the Shang Wu Gate (Small North Gate). Inside the gate there is a street called Xiwuyuan, which, as the name implies, was a place in the past to practice martial arts. The Shaanxi military and Kung Fu examinations were held in Xiwuyuan during the Sui and Dang dynasties. It was also the parade ground for military training during the Qing dynasty.

If you walk east for 1440 meters you can see the North Gate. Also called An Yuan Gate, it implied that the imperial court hoped all its conciliatory approaches towards the minorities on the north frontier would lead to peace. When the 1911 Revolution broke out, the original North Gate towers, where the Qing Army had ammunition stored, were destroyed in the heavy fighting. The current gate was restored in 1983, and it has some cultural relics and works of calligraphy and painting on display in the arrow tower. You can feel proud that half the distance of your city wall hike has been completed.

In the next 2300 meters walking eastward to the northeast corner, you will pass the Shang De Gate, Jie Fang Gate, Shang Jian Gate and Shang Qin Gate. These four gates are all busy traffic arteries leading to the Xi'an railway station. The Shang De Gate, Shang Jian Gate and Shang Qing Gate were all opened after the founding of new China. Together with the Shang Wu Gate, they all evince the virtues of Confucian ethics. The original Jie Fang Gate was opened during the Republic Period and was torn down in 1952 to expand the railway square. The current rebuilt one joined the entire wall together in 2005.

Next you will reach the Chao Yang Gate by walking about 780 meters, after rounding the corner. Facing towards the sun, this gate is the first one kissed by the rays of sunshine every day, so that's where it gets its name.

It is the Zhong Shan Gate (Small East Gate) that is 820 meters south of the Chao Yang Gate. The opening of this gate was sponsored by General Feng Yuxiang in honor of Dr. Sun Yat Sen, the greatest revolutionary forerunner of modern China. Inside the Zhong Shan Gate, there is a thriving antiques market. You can get down from the wall and finish the hiking from this gate if you are interested in exploring or collecting antiques.

Morning market along the ancient wall

Old defenses on the wall

You will see the East Gate after walking southward for 700 meters. It has been called Chang Le Gate (eternal joy) since the Ming dynasty. As Nanjing, the Ming capital, was east of Xian, this gate was named to proclaim the wish that the Ming Emperors desired their government to endure forever at ease. In October of 1643, Li Zicheng led his peasant rebellion force and stormed their way into the inner city from this gate. When he saw the horizontal tablet on the gate, he said to his army 'what a miserable life for people if the emperor wants eternal joy', so they indignantly burnt up the gate. It was rebuilt during the Qing dynasty, and today you can see old defenses like cannons and ballista here.

Walking the next 1020 meters, you will round the southeast corner of the wall and move westward to arrive at the Jian Guo Gate, which was opened to mark that great historic event, the founding of PRC.

While enjoying the city views, you will see the He Ping Gate. The name showed the war-weary Chinese people's deep desire for peace in the early years after liberation. Casting your eyes south to the end of the street, the Big Wild Goose Pagoda is visible.

The next stop, Wen Chang Gate, is about 640 meters on your way westward. There is a tower honoring the god of literature, the only construction that has nothing to do with military defense. Legend has it that scholars and students worshipped the god of literature for inspiration and academic help before examinations. The ancients believed that if one's name could be selected by the god of literature, he would pass the three imperial examinations and became the top candidate. Getting down from the Wen Chang Gate and walking inside it for a short while, you can find the Forest of Stone Steles Museum and the site of Guanzhong Shuyuan (the Central Shaanxi Academy – the highest educational institution of Shaanxi Province during the Ming and Qing dynasties). East of the Forest of Stone Steles Museum, there is a 570 meter-long ancient culture street, which is called Shuyuanmen because of the Guanzhong Shuyuan. Those stores sell a lot of calligraphy, paintings, writing brushes, ink stick, paper and ink slabs making this street very culturally active.

Cycling on the City Wall

Ancient Cultural Street of Shuyuanmen

If you are still on the wall, you can find that success is in sight. It takes only about 605 meters walking further west to your starting point, the South Gate. At this moment, you will feel a strong sense of accomplishment after finishing this 12-kilometer hike. Congratulations!

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Questions & Answers
Asked by Antonio from SPAIN | Nov. 13, 2019 06:18Reply
Which side of the wall - East or West?
If I want to walk from South Gate to North Gate - going through the East or West gate is better?

Answers (1)
Answered by Carolina | Nov. 14, 2019 01:00

The distance of both route are the almost same and also the views, so both are good choices to visit.
Asked by Ed from SINGAPORE | Jun. 08, 2019 15:06Reply
Visiting South & Hanguang Gates
The museum at Hanguang Gate is quite a long distance away from the South Gate. If I want to visit the South Gate followed by the Hanguang Gate museum, can I take the battery car to bring me to the Hanguang Gate? Or does the battery car only stops at the North / South / East / West Gates and thus I got no choice but to walk ?
Answers (1)
Answered by Olivia | Jun. 09, 2019 18:27

As I know, the distance from Hanguang Gate museum to Yongning Gate (South Gate) is about 1.4 km which needs 30 minutes to walk to. The battery car on the City Wall only stop at North Gate, South Gate, West Gate and East Gate, and Hanguang Gate is close to South Gate, so I advise you walk to the South Gate from Hanguang Gate.
Asked by Siri from THAILAND | Sep. 15, 2018 04:13Reply
Can I rent a bike from North Gate and return at the Southgate and get the deposit from there ?
Which route do you recommend if I go from North Gate to the South ?
Answers (1)
Answered by Sherry | Sep. 17, 2018 02:35

Yes. You can return the bike and get the deposit at which section you would like to stop riding. Please remember keep the deposit receipt and take enough Chinese cash before you rent the bike. If time limits, you can go from the North Gate, cycle around the east side and then finish at the South Gate. The eastern side of the wall is more prosperous, where you can see the changes of the city and the Xi'an Railway Station. Moreover, there is also much to see near the South Gate, you may explore a bit after getting down from the wall.
Asked by JEN123W | Feb. 03, 2018 23:25Reply
Walking the wall

Can we walk the whole way around which is the best gate to get on the wall we would also like to see some of the museums in the wall what is the best way to do this at the least cost we have the whole day to explore
Answers (1)
Answered by Chris | Feb. 04, 2018 19:53

Hi, if you want to walk the whole way around the City Wall, you are suggested to get on the wall from the South Gate (also called Yong Ning Gate). If you only want to walk half the wall, then North Gate is recommended. By the way, it is a bit tired to walk the whole way around the wall, so you may consider taking a bicycle which is quite popular among visitors.

As for the museums, you can visit the Han Guang Gate Site Museum which is included in the entrance ticket of the wall. But for other museums, you need to get off the wall if you want to visit them.
Asked by michelle from AUSTRALIA | Apr. 22, 2017 23:29Reply
getting on and off the wall
Hello we are travelling to Xi'an next March and we are wondering do we pay one fee to go on the wall at the South gate then if we want to get off and wander around the museums do we then just get back on the wall where we got off or do we need to pay every time we get on and off the wall???
Answers (2)
Answered by Li | Apr. 26, 2017 21:52

The Han Guang Gate Site Museum is connected with the city wall, so you can get on the wall after visiting the museum without paying again. However, if you want to visit the stone steles museum, you need to leave the city wall. Then buy the ticket again if you get on the wall again.
Answered by Michelle from AUSTRALIA | Apr. 27, 2017 01:39

thank you so much for that information.
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