The capital of Shaanxi province, XI'AN is one of the more pleasant Chinese cities. It's a primer in Chinese history, as between 1000 BC and 1000 AD it served as the imperial capital for eleven dynasties and was the start of the Silk Road. Among the wealth of important sites in and around the city, the magnificent Terracotta Army of the Qin emperor, Qin Shi Huang, is the most famous and Xi'an's biggest draw.
Xi'an successfully integrates its architectural heritage with the modern city, its imposing walls and ancient geometric street plan, centring on the Bell Tower, giving it a distinct identity. Downtown Xi'an, inside the walls, is just about compact enough to get around on foot, with enough sights to fill a busy day. The Beilin Museum holds a massive collection of steles, while the Muslim Quarter preserves a different side of old China in its labyrinth of alleys centring on the Great Mosque. The area south of the Ming-dynasty city walls is scattered with architecture from the Han and Tang dynasties. The excellent Shaanxi History Museum and the small Daxingshan Si sit between the two Goose pagodas and their temples, which are some of Xi'an's oldest – and certainly the most distinctive – buildings.