A Brief Guide To The Xian Muslim Quarter
The area known as The Xian Muslim Quarter is one of the oldest parts of the city of Xian. Visitors to this part of Xian will find that most of the people here have been born, lived and will die here without ever having stepped foot into any other part of the city!
The history surrounding The Xian Muslim Quarter is a colorful and interesting tale. It is recorded by way of Imperial Records that Chinese Muslims (also known as Hui) have been settled in this area as far back as 732 A. D, around the time that The Great Mosque was being erected. Once the city had established trade links with other Central Asian civilizations, this meant that people from other areas of the continent could come and go to Xian via the area known as the Silk Road.
As time passed, The Xian Muslim Quarter became more established with more and more people opting to remain in this part of the city. Many foreigners who held the same beliefs and traditions as the Muslims who already occupied the quarter felt that they had something in common and remained in the quarter. Indeed, it is assumed that many of the people who live in this part of Xian today are descended from peoples who have Middle Eastern origins, most likely traders who traveled down from the Silk Road.
Visitors to the city will find The Xian Muslim Quarter is located in the heart of the city, just behind the Drum Tower. It is easy to tell when you have reached the area as the clothing, smells and language are different to the other areas that can be visited in Xian. Here visitors will find a range of shops, markets, stalls and restaurants that are unique to the quarter.
When on a trip to the quarter it is most likely that you will want to see one of the grandest and oldest Muslim buildings to be found in China, The Great Mosque.Originally started in around 732 A. D. Most of the buildings that can be seen nowadays were constructed during the 13th century. This mosque is unlike any other due to the fact that its architecture is mainly of a Chinese style.
There is an amount of Arabic and Islamic decoration to be found on the mosque which helps to identify it as a Muslim building. As well as the main mosque there are a number of other smaller buildings and numerous courtyards. Some of the areas of the mosque are not accessible by the public as they are still used by Muslims to this day.
Since it was originally settled over 1,200 years ago, life in the Muslim quarter of Xian has not changed much, if at all. The community is very close-knit and many of the residents have ancestors who lived in the quarter previously, some as much as 40 generations ago.
In fact, the everyday life of the residents of the quarter is almost identical to that of their ancestors all those years ago. Markets will be swept and cleaned, food will be prepared for the most part of the day and the older generations will relax with a pot of tea and their friends to chatter. This scene is very unique and is exactly as visitors would have found it had they visited the 40 generations previous to today’s one.
The Xian Muslim Quarter is a very popular area to visit whilst on a trip to the city. Many travelers are drawn to this area thanks to its wonderful mosque, exquisite restaurants and friendly people. The shopping experience here is unlike anything else to be found in the city of Xian.
Xian Great Mosque
The Xian Great Mosque is among the oldest and most revered mosques in China. It is located in the city of Xian in Shaanxi Province, and is one of the top tourist attractions in the city along with the nearby Drum Tower. It is considered unique because the architecture is distinctly Chinese, as opposed to the Arab styles found in most other mosques in China.
The origins of the mosque date back to 742 AD, when it was first built in the Tang Dynasty. During this era, some Arabs and Persians entering through Afghanistan settled down in China and became a part of the society in the Northwest. Their presence continued to enrich Chinese culture over the centuries, and the Great Mosque got a lot of attention, starting with a full renovation in 1392 during the Ming Dynasty.
The structure received many subsequent renovations in the next 3-4 centuries. As it stands today, the mosque resembles a well-preserved Buddhist temple from the Ming dynasty. The courtyards and pavilions are all lined up one after the other along a single axis.
Visitors will have to pass through four courtyards, each with its own art and architectural treasures like old towers, glazed tiles and beautiful calligraphy from the Ming and Song dynasties. The massive prayer hall at the western end of the structure is capable of accommodating 1,000 people, and can only be reached after crossing through all four courtyards and the Phoenix Pavilion.
The only thing that sets it apart from Buddhist temples of the same era is that the axis is set east to west, facing Mecca. Chinese architectural styles modified like this for use in an Islamic place of prayer makes it a very unusual structure. It is not only well-preserved, but also still in use for daily prayers by Muslims.
Note that those from other religions cannot enter into the Prayer Hall when the service is in progress (5 times a day). Non-Muslim visitors need to pay an entrance fee (CNY 15 to 25; $2.4 to $4) that varies based on the season. But for tourists, it is still a magical place to explore with fountains, gardens, art and sculptures. Find out more about the Xian Great Mosque Tour
The location is in Xian proper, so reaching it is quite easy. Those visiting the Drum Tower first only have to walk one block to the northwest towards Huajue Lane to find the Xian Great Mosque. It is an experience not to be missed by visitors in the city or elsewhere in Shaanxi province.