It’s unfair, really. Mention Xian and most tourists picture the Terracotta Warriors, one of the great ancient wonders of the world. And that’s about it. Nice start, you might think, but Xian was capital of China for more than 1,000 years and arguably a bigger, more cosmopolitan city than ancient Athens, Cairo or Rome. Its unique position in world history runs deeper than those 7,000 underground clay soldiers, impressive though they are.
Xian, for example, is the origin of the ancient Silk Road. Trade began here and travelled on caravans along a historical network of interlinking trade routes across the Afro-Eurasian landmass. Those exports played a significant role in developing the ancient civilizations of India, Egypt, Persia, Arabia and Rome and in several respects helped lay the foundations for the modern world.
From the link with India came Buddhism, as evidenced by the Big Goose Pagoda. Creeping in from Rome came Christianity, barely visible but for a precious 8th-century stone tablet that absorbs scholars and theologians at the Beilin Museum. From Arabs and Persians came Islam, as evidenced by the Great Mosque and bustling Chinese Muslim community that thrives here to this day. Such a cosmopolitan range of influences has also enriched the local cuisine, most notably the delicious dumplings and noodles. History never tasted so good.