Fortifications of Xi'an

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Fortifications of Xi'an
Xi'an City Wall
XiAn CityWall DiLou.jpg
Xi'an City Wall
General information
Type Fortification
Country  China
Coordinates 34°15′58″N 108°56′35″E / 34.266°N 108.943°E / 34.266; 108.943Coordinates: 34°15′58″N 108°56′35″E / 34.266°N 108.943°E / 34.266; 108.943
Technical details
Size 14 km (8.7 mi)
Official name Xi'an City Wall
Type Cultural
Criteria iii, iv
Designated Tentative 2008
Reference no. [1]
State Party China
Region Tentative Asia-Pacific

The fortifications of Xi'an (Chinese: 西安城墙), also known as Xi'an City Wall, in Xi'an, an ancient capital of China, represent one of the oldest, largest and best preserved Chinese city walls. It was built under the rule of Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang as a military defense system. It represents the "complete features of the rampart architecture of feudal society". It has been refurnished many times since it was built in the 14th century, thrice at an interval of about 200 years in the later half of 1500s and 1700s, and in recent years in 1983.[1] The wall encloses an area of about 36 square kilometres (14 sq mi)[2]

The Xi'an City Wall was proposed for inscription as a UNESCO World Heritage Site by the State Administration of Cultural Heritage of the People's Republic of China in 2008. UNESCO included the site in the tentative List of World Heritage Sites under the title "City Walls of the Ming and Qing Dynasties" as a cultural heritage under Criterion iii & iv.[1] In March 1961, the Xi'an City Wall was designated a heritage site as a National Historical and Cultural Town.[1][3]

Michelle Obama, the first lady of the United States who visited the Xiang City Wall on 24 March 2014 said: "a wall that has withstood war and famine and the rise and fall of dynasties".[2]


Xi'an City Wall is situated in the urban district of Xi'an City, which was the capital of China but relocated later.[1] It is located at the end of the ancient Silk Road.[4]


City Moat of Xi'an

Zhu Yuanzhang, the first Emperor of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), was advised by Zhu Sheng, a sage, to build a fortified high wall around the city, create storage facilitates for food and then establish his empire by unification of all the other states. Following the hermit's advice Zhu established the Ming dynasty, and then started building a highly fortified wall over a previously existing wall of the Tang dynasty (618 -907). He started building the Xian City Wall,[5] as the capital of northwestern Shaanxi Province.[6] in 1370.[7] He incorporated the ancient fortified embankments built by the Sui and Tang Dynasties by including them in the wall's western and southern parts, and enlarged it towards the eastern and northern parts. It took eight years to build the edifice which was preserved well both during the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644), and the Qing Dynasty which followed. The wall was built with tamped earth. During the Longqing Emperor's period (1568) the wall was strengthened by laying blue bricks on the top and exterior faces of the earthen walls. During the reign of Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty (1781), the wall was enlarged, and drainage facilities, crenels and other features were created; and the structure as seen now came into existence.[1] However, by the end of the Quing dynasty rule the edifice started deteriorating. To some degree the Republican Authorities carried out maintenance of the wall which was in a poor state, but in early twentieth century period of war the wall's defense system was considered to be of strategic importance even though demolishing of similar walls in other regions of the country was undertaken following the 1911 Revolution. In 1926 the wall was attacked with bombs by enemy forces resulting in serious damage to the wall but the city within the wall was not affected. During the Second World War Japanese carried out air bombings from 1937 to 1940 when about 1,000 bunkers, as antiaircraft shelters, were built within the wide base (thickness of more than 15 metres (49 ft)) of the wall, and a few escape openings were also made through the wall as passage ways. However, new gates to allow traffic through the Xian Wall were done during the Republican rule.[8]

In the 1930s most people lived within the perimeter of the Xi'an Wall but still there was lot of unoccupied open areas. This fact is recorded in the Shenboo Atlas of 1933. Among the visitors who came to see the Xian Wall were American captain (later general) Stilwell in 1922 and the Czech sinologist Jaroslav Průšek (1906-1980) in 1933. In May 2005, all the ramparts of Xi'an Wall were interlinked.[8][1]

In the year 1983, the municipal administration of the Xi'an municipality carried our more renovations and additions to the wall; the Yangmacheng tower, the Zhalou sluice tower, the Kuixinglou dipper tower, the Jiaolou corner tower and the Dilou defense tower were all refurbished. The crumbling parts of the rampart were changed into gates, and the moat was restored. In May 2005, the Xi'an's ramparts were all connected.[1]


The Xi'an City Wall

The Xi'an Wall is rectangular in shape and has total length of 14 kilometres (8.7 mi) with restoration or rebuilding done in most stretches. At the top it has a walkway which takes four hours of walking to cover.[9] It is built in the Chinese rampart architecture style.[1] As a defense fortification it is built with components of a moat, drawbridges, watch towers, corner towers, parapet walls and gate towers. The wall is 12 metres (39 ft) in height with a width of 12–14 metres (39–46 ft) at the top and base width of 15–18 metres (49–59 ft). Ramparts are built at every 120 metres (390 ft) interval which projects from the main wall. There are parapets on the outer side of the wall which are built with 5,984 crenels which form "altogether protruding ramparts". There are four watch towers at the four corners of the wall. The moat that surrounds the wall has a width of 18 metres (59 ft) wide and depth of 6 metres (20 ft).[10] The area within the wall is about 36 square kilometres (14 sq mi) and encloses the city which has a small area 14 square kilometres (5.4 sq mi).[11] The southern embrasured watchtower of Xian’an City Wall was constructed in 1378 and destroyed by fire in 1926.[3]

Left: A South Gate barbican entrance of Xi'an Right: Another view of Xi'an City Wall

The southern “embrasured" watchtower, built in 1378, which was damaged during the civil war of 1926, was restored in September 2014. This was done after a careful historical review of documents related to the features that existed before it was damaged. The features of the other three watchtowers forming the northern, eastern and western gates of the wall were also examined in planning the modifications done for the South Tower. The modifications done, without affecting the integrity of the wall, involved creating a protection system with a large hall by using steel, wood work and the ancient-type tiles and bricks structure.[3] Major gates have ramp access except the South Gate which has entry outside the walls.[9]

There is an Archery Tower which provides security to one of the four gates of the Xi'an wall. Created as a large trap like chamber, with its external wall built with a tower above, it gave a vantage position to the military guards to shoot arrows (in the initial years of building the wall) and then with canon balls in later years at the opposing enemy forces. Even in the event of the enemy breaking through the main gate they would still get trapped in the small chamber of the gate that faced yet another gate.[12]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h "City Walls of the Ming and Qing Dynasties Description". UNESCO Organization. Retrieved 15 November 2015. 
  2. ^ a b Obama, Michelle (24 March 2014). "The First Lady's Travel Journal: Visiting the Xi'an City Wall". White House: Government of USA. Retrieved 15 November 2015. 
  3. ^ a b c "Shaanxi Top 10 events of cultural heritage in 2014". Shaanxi Provincial Bureau of Cultural Heritage. Retrieved 27 July 2015. 
  4. ^ "Introducing X’Oan". Lonely Planet. Retrieved 15 November 2015. 
  5. ^ "Xian City Wall". Official web site of The Tourism administration of Xi'an. Retrieved 15 November 2015. 
  6. ^ Beijing Review. Beijing Review. 2008. 
  7. ^ Lynn2013, p. 123.
  8. ^ a b So & Zelin 2013, pp. 233-34.
  9. ^ a b "Xī’ān City Walls". Lonely Planet. Retrieved 15 November 2015. 
  10. ^ Bushell 2012, p. 33-36.
  11. ^ Xi'an City Wall. Heritage Key
  12. ^ "Xi'an City Wall". China Bibliography - Hua Umf Maine. Retrieved 15 November 2015. 


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