We have arrived
We are in Xi’an, about 1000Km south west of Beijing. Xi’an is described as the cultural heart of China, and was its capital for about 1300 years. It is also the Westernmost of the major cities of China, and the notional beginning of the Silk Road.
Around 200BC China was forcibly united from a number of warring states, into a single nation led by the first King of China, King Qin. Apparently he was the first king, and all that came after him were Emperors. As part of the unification process he needed to subdue the warring tribes to the East. He found that the horses of the high plains, in what is now Mongolia and the central Asian ‘stans, were particularly good for warfare: they were small, but very strong and very fast. The Silk Road developed initially as an exchange of horses from the West for spices, silks, knowledge and subjugation from Xi’an. The Silk Road was a trading route that extended westward from Xi’an and eventually (some 1500 years later) ended in Venice and the Mediterranean.
So today we were taken to the Muslim Quarter and to see the Central Mosque of Xi’an. We also visited the city walls of Xi’an, described as the best preserved in China. The walls were a little disappointing – they looked a lot newer than 1000 years old, and in fact had been partially destroyed many times. The bricks had been reused by the local population over the years, and the guide showed us with pride where bricks had been returned by the locals with little engravings on the face of the brick with the year that it had been replaced in the wall – all around the 1980s.
The Muslim Quarter – where most of the 70,000 Muslims of the 1million residents of Xi’an live, was exactly what one would expect from a trading market. Elaine’s photos are great but current technology doesn’t do justice to the noise, the bustle, the shouting, the mopeds, and the smells that made this such a great place to start the Silk Road. The Silk Road was a route for trading and commerce; the market in the Muslim Quarter is the continuation of that trading heritage.
That there are Muslims in Xi’an is down to westward migration along the Silk Road from Iran, and Central Asia. Inevitably whilst the religion observance remains, the Mosque has taken on the character of the local population. So it is not always possible to tell that one is in a Mosque rather than a Buddhist temple. This adaptation is necessary and allows in most cases for two communities to live side by side. Have a look at some of the photos and make up your own mind as to whether this is a Buddhist temple or a Mosque.