Xi'an's history is as old as China's itself. The Xi'an area was the center of power of the very earliest Chinese dynasties, and when it reached the height of its glory in the 9th century AD, Xi'an (then called Chang'an) was one of the greatest cities in the world.
The story begins with some of China's most significant Neolithic excavations, which were carried out in the Xi'an area. The written records of the region date back to the Zhou dynasty : the Zhou capital was located just to the northwest of present-day Xi'an, and this was also the site of the capital under the Qin dynasty, when the city was called Xianyang. The Qin dynasty was the first to unify China, and the Qin emperor Qin Shihuang (260-210 BC), while a ruthless tyrant, was also a tireless builder and administrator. He is best remembered for leaving behind Xi'an's most famous scenic attraction: the army of 8,000 Terracotta Warriors.
In 202 BC, the city on the site of present-day Xi'an was designated the capital of the Han Dynasty, and was called Chang' an, a name it was to hold on and off for over 1000 years. It was at this time that the ancient city walls of Xi'an were first built. It was also during the Han dynasty that the city became established as the starting point of the Silk Route, the ancient caravan trail that linked China with the European continent; this was to give Xi'an enormous influence and wealth, and make it a crossroads of language, culture and religion.
In 25 AD the seat of government was moved east to Luoyang, but under the Sui dynasty the emperor ordered a new metropolis built southeast of the old Han capital, and referred to it as Daxing, ''Great Excitement''. During the Tang Dynasty, the city' s name was changed back to Chang' an, ushering in a period of unprecedented growth and splendor. The Tang Dynasty is often referred to as a ''Golden Age'' for China, with profoundly important developments in the arts, economy and politics. In Chang' an, painting, literature, poetry and music flourished, and the city was home to travelers from all over east and south Asia as well as merchants and travelers from Persia, Byzantium and the Middle East, who settled and built mosques and churches, making the city a center of Buddhist, Muslim, and Nestorian Christian culture. At the height of its glory, Chang'an covered nearly 80 square kilometers (over 30 square miles).
The fall of the Tang in 907 AD marked the end of Chang'an's greatness, as China's capital again moved eastwards. Over the next few centuries, the Silk Road began to decline in importance as sea routes opened up, and Xi'an's economic significance declined with it. The city became a regional center, although under the Ming and Qing dynasties, it still had military importance, and its walls and fortifications were carefully maintained.
Today, Xi'an is seeing another renaissance as a vital center of development in the northwest of China. The city is home to some outstanding universities, and its economy is flourishing, driven by its strategic industries: IT and hi-tech, equipment manufacturing, tourism, modern services and its cultural industry.
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