Xi’an Ancient City Wall

Xi’an City Wall is located in the center of downtown Xi’an. It was built in the Ming Dynasty (1368~1644) on basis of the royal city wall of the Tang Dynasty (618AD~907AD). Xi’an city wall is the most well-preserved ancient city wall in China as well as one of the largest survived ancient military defensive structures in the world.

Ancient city wall

As early as the pre-establishment of the Ming Dynasty, when Zhu Yuanzhang, the first emperor of the Ming Dynasty, captured Hui Zhou, a hermit named Zhu Sheng advised him to build high walls, store abundant food supplies, and take time to proclaim him the emperor. Zhu Yuanzhang followed the hermit’s advice and when he founded the Ming Dynasty, many city walls were built across the nation according to the Emperor’s order. Consequently, Xi’an City Wall was created by enlarging the original royal city wall of the Tang Dynasty.


The enlarged City Wall was built in the shape of a closed rectangle. It stands 12 meters (40 feet) tall, 15~18 meters (50~60 feet) wide at the bottom and 12~14 meters (40~46 feet) wide at the top. It extends 13.7 kilometers (some 8.5 miles) in length with a deep and wide moat protecting it outer side against attackers. On top of the City Wall there is one rampart with sentry building projecting out from the wall every 120 meters. Totally 98 ramparts of this kind were built on the wall. These bulgy ramparts with sentry buildings were built for shooting enemies who attempted to climb the wall. The half-distance between every two neighboring ramparts just equals the range of an arrow from either side, which means any attacker on the wall top would be shot dead by arrows from one of these sentry buildings. In this way, these ramparts could help soldiers protect the whole City Wall without dead zone and without exposing themselves to enemies. Besides, on the outer side of the wall top, the buttress wall with nearly 6 000 crenels was built. By these crenels soldiers can shoot and watch the enemy. Parapet free from crenels was built on the inner side of the wall top for protecting soldiers from falling off the wall. Moreover, one corner table extends out from the main wall was constructed on each corner of the city wall. On each extended corner table there stands one corner table, which are bigger than rampart in scale.


The weapons in ancient times were not powerful enough to wreak a wall, and the city gate was the only entrance to the city. Hence the city gate was always regarded as a fortification of the utmost importance and also that explains why complicated gates structures were built. Xi’an City Wall has one main gate on the east wall, the west wall, the south wall, and the north wall respectively. And each main gate possesses one zhenglou (gate tower), one jianlou (arrow tower) and one zhalou (flashboard tower). Zhalou is in front of the other two towers, it is responsible for raising and lowering the suspension bridge. Behind zhalou is he jianlou. The front and two flanks of jianlou have quadrate windows for defensive shooting. Zhenglou is the most inside one. It is the main entrance to the city. Janlou and zhenglou is connected with enclosing wall, the ground inside the enclosure is called Wong Cheng, a place for soldiers stationing. Besides, the non-stair sloping horse passage that head from the foot to the top of the wall were built in Wongcheng. From the pack-ways, war hoses can run upward and downward.

Originally, Xi’an City Wall was purely built with mixture of earth, lime, and glutinous rice extract. To protect the City Wall, in the year 1568, the government officer of that time ordered to cover and rebuilt walls with grey bricks inside, outside and top part of the Wall. On the top of the Wall, there is one water channel every 40~60 meters. The water channels are paved with grey bricks to let rains flow from wall top down to ground. Those water channels have played an important role in the long-term preservation of the Wall.
Now a circular park has been built along the city wall, which adds additional beauty to the ancient wall. Besides, the annual Xi’an City Wall International Marathon is attracting more and more people every year. Visitors can either ramble on the wall or cover it by a sightseeing car. And city wall biking becomes a popular choice for many young visitors to feel the beauty of this ancient wall.