China’s most intact city wall was initially built during the Tang Dynasty (618-907) surrounding Changan City, the ancient capital city of China for over 1,100 years. The capital was moved eastward in 904, changing the city’s name to â€œNew Cityâ€ and was used as an army garrison by the Song and Yuan Dynasties. In 1368 the Ming Dynasty began, marking yet another name change for the city when it became known as the Prefecture of Xian. Two years later the first Ming Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang named his second son Zhu Shuang the King of Qin and sent him to Shaanxi Province to build his residence. Xian was chosen as the seat from which the new king would rule, but in order to meet the kingâ€™s standards the dilapidated city needed to be renovated and expanded.
The original wall was extended and fortified after the establishment of the King of Qin’s residence in order to empower Xian and unify the surrounding areas. The city wall has been identified as one of the world’s most extensive military defense systems.
The wall was extended to reach a height of 12 meters (40 ft). It measures 15-18 meters in width at the base and tapers to a width of 12-14 meters at the top, covering a concentric length of 13.7 kilometers (8.5 miles). The entire wall is fortified by a deep moat that encircles its perimeter. A series of 98 ramparts spaced approximately 120 meters apart extend from the top of the wall. In each rampart soldiers stood guard undetected by approaching outsiders. The distance between each rampart was intentionally measured to account for the typical range of an arrow in order to defend the city from enemy attackers on multiple sides. As a secondary defensive measure, 5,950 battlements were incorporated into the exterior of the wall to allow soldiers to attack while protecting themselves.
Early forms of weaponry were not developed enough to destroy city walls, therefore making entry points such as gates the most vulnerable brakes within the defense system. Four gates, beginning in the north moving clockwise, are known as Anyuan (Forever Harmony), Changle (Eternal Joy), Yongning (Eternal Peace), and Anding (Harmony Peace) are not only intricately detailed, but also are complicated in design in order to prevent impending attacks. The wall remains today as the defining characteristic of Xian City and is a fascinating attraction for exploration. One of the best ways to experience the magnitude of the City Wall is to ride along the top of the wall on bicycle, observing ancient ramparts while seeing the inner and outer city from either side.