Muslim Quarters, Xi'an
My real disappointment with Muslim Street was the lack of time we were allowed by the tour guide (blaming tour company and NOT the guide) to experience the sights, sounds and smells of a fascinating street.
Vendors of all types of food and especially one for the sweet tooth. A crunchy peanut tasting 'cake' twisted around a hook. As our entourage of some 18 tourists tried to follow our guide, at least at some stage we all bounded off to have a closer look – and/or take photos – along the narrow street. Sadly the motorcycles seemed to have ignored the 'pedestrians only' signs at the entrance to the street.
I would have dearly loved to have experienced just some of the food on offer, but apart from the peanut 'cake' I left disappointed.
We were given just 15 minutes to 'stroll around' the market area – an impossible task. However I was able to increase our collection of fridge magnets. Our rule stipulates we have to sleep in a city/town to qualify for a magnet. Stopping at an airport etc just does not count.
Take your time in this area. The bazaar is a wide area of stalls selling… everything, but around it, China pulses with its best colours and events.
The streets and walkways are full of life, and if you can support some odd smells (Fernanda complained a little) it’s something you shouldn’t miss.
The mosque of Xi'an is a surprise, without many signs connecting to muslim art and architecture. However, when you exit, if you walk a little in the narrow roads, you will easily fell the muslim way of life around you. The "souk" could easily be pictured as part of any city in north Africa or the Arabic world.
It's quite a surprise this building. Everything looks... Chinese, in Ming style.
Without a warning, no one could imagine this site as a Muslim temple. A good exercise is to walk around, searching for signs that confirm the nature of the religious practices in place. And, discreet, they are there: In a shadowed room, the carpets oriented to Mecca wait for the prayers, and in the garden, some decorations are a Chinese interpretation of Arab decoration.
In almost all the mosques that I visited, water for purification waits the believers at the entrance, and receive a treatment of some evidence. I didn't see it in Xi'an. A beautiful and refreshing garden, but no fountain. They really wanted to be original, or did I miss something?
One of the unique characters of Muslim quarter is its diversity of buildings' architectural designs from various periods and influenced by various ethnicity from the East and West or the Middle East. For example, the Great Mosque has the Chinese architectural design with Muslim customs from the Middle East.
This neighborhood was the starting point of the silk road in the 1st century of BC. Traders from all over the World would come to this city to trade their goods with each other. It was one of the biggest cities in the World back in the 1st century. That is the reason why many had settled their life here with cross cultural marriage with the local Han. So, they have adopted a different lifestyle than the non-Muslim Chinese.
Pork is prohibited to be served and consumed by Muslim. So, they can only sell and buy products that labeled with Qing Zhen, in other word free of pork. In Malaysia, we call it "Halah". So, this is a safe place for Muslim from all over the World to eat and buy food in this neighborhood. The women in my picture is making dumpling without pork meat because she is a "Hui" Chinese in Muslim Quarter.
The Muslim Quarter is an unique Chinese ancient town with Muslim community. It consists of many alleys west of North Street and north of West Street, or north of the Drum Tower. I explored the Beiyuanmen street first, then saw the Xi Yang Shi. Xi Yang Shi means West Sheep Market, where the local vendors selling foods and merchandises on the street side. The sound, smile and colors of the street has certainly got my attention to discover what the vendors were selling. They sells meats, Muslim snake food like dumpling, sweet cakes, candies and etc.
Other beautiful street scenes including ethnic Muslim man ridding bicycle as their daily transportation, old ethnic Muslim women talking with their friends while selling food on the street, children playing around in front of their parents' shop, many domestic tourists trying varieties of Muslim snake with smiles.
Don't miss the charm of Muslim Community in Xi'an!
In Xian itself this is the most enjoyable and interesting place to see and experience. The streets are packful of vendors and all kinds of food. We even found a Chinese Muslim version of a bagel. Just find something you like, point, pay and chow down. The most annoying thing is that they allow vehicles go down these very narrow and pedestrian filled streets.
Also located here is the Great Mosque. Not easy to find but worth the effort because it is much different than any other mosque I have ever seen. The buildings and grounds look very much like a Chinese temple. Admission is 25 Yuan.
Located behind the Drum Tower, one can find the Moslem Quarter. Inhabited by the Hui, Chinese Moslems who trace their ancestry to the Tang Dynasty when Islam first reached China via the Silk Road. The Great Mosque is situated here, amongst alleys full of shops and food stalls.
Admission is charged to enter the mosque. Non-moslems are not permitted in the main prayer hall.
The Great Mosque in Xian is one of the oldest, largest and best-preserved Islamic mosques in China. According to historical records engraved on a stone tablet inside, this mosque was built in 742 AD during the Tang Dynasty (618-907). This was a result of Islam being introduced into Northwest China by Arab merchants and travellers from Persia and Afghanistan during the mid-7th century when some of them settled down in China and married women of Han Nationality.
Unlike most mosques in Middle Eastern or Arab countries, the Great Mosque of Xian is completely Chinese in its construction and architectural style, except for some Arabic lettering and decorations, for the mosque has neither domes nor traditional-style minarets. Occupying an area of over 13,000 square meters, the Great Mosque is divided into four courtyards, 250 meters long and 47 meters wide with a well-arranged layout featuring landscaped gardens. The mosque is a must-see-thing whilst in Xian.
Admission: RMB12 (includes a small pocket-sized guidebook).
Tucked behind the Drum Tower (I think it was). The area is well worth a visit and we again did this in the evening with the Market offering everything chinese and muslim. Funny little streets with a hive of activity - carts being pulled, bicyles being ridden, people racing along, tourists shopping, kids playing - good place to visit. We bought a few souvenirs here and a few Cloisonne Xmas Decorations which I thoroughly enjoyed seeing on my tree this Christmas.
It is very interesting to see how Chinese architecture blends with Muslim caligraphy and art in the Great Mosque of Xian.
The mosque is nested in a beautiful garden, where you pass gate after gate, courtyard after courtyard, everything looks very Chinese, even the minaret is replaced by a Chinese pavilion.
However, when you look closely there are Arabic inscriptions with verses from the Kuran on the gates and columns.
The atmosphere is serene and calls for contemplation, like in a Buddhist temple. Yet a glimpse into the praying hall itself (only Muslims are allowed inside), a modest one-storey structure at the far end of the park, reveals bearded men sitting on mats and praying to Allah: The mosque continues to serve as an active place of worship. The present building was constructed in the 18th century, but the history of the Great Mosque goes back to the Tang Dynasty period.
Although first recorded in 742 there has been a muslim presence in Xi'an for many years before this. Since the beginning of the Silk Road there has been trade between China and the Persians and other middle eastern countries. Many muslim merchants stayed in China to establish their businesses. In the following 1200 years the community has gradually melded with the local but has kept many traditions. This is especially noticeable in the food stalls in the busy narrow lanes - meat is threaded onto skewers and barbecued and served with spicy sauces and flat bread. The traditional full dress for women is sometimes seen but most often just the headscarf.
As you travel through the narrow lanes full of stalls selling the same items as you will find in the rest of Xi'an you would be forgiven for not realising that you are in fact in the home of a minority people - the Hui community. Even the Great Mosque is heavily influenced by Chinese architectural style.
After our lunch with George and our driver, he took us to the Muslim Quarters and the Great Mosque. Our itinery originally was to go to the Shanxxi Museum but apparently it was closed on a Monday. So, we went here instead, and I would thoroughly recommend spending a few hours here. The shopping was great, very cheap and some unusual items we did not see anywhere else in China. Im not too sure about the food, we saw some very unusual delicasies which, every time I asked what they were, I got the answer "you dont want to know!" One I did take a pic of was goats feet!!!
Muslim Quarters is very close to the Great Mosque, but not too sure of the exact address. Im sure your Hotel staff will be able to advise taxi drivers of where to go.
After passing through the Phoenix Pavilion and One God Pavilion, you'll come to the main building within the mosque complex, which is the Prayer Hall. The roof is covered with blue glazed roof tiles while its ceilings are carved with over 600 classical scriptures in which all the letters are shaped in the colourful decorative patterns of grass and flowers. Around the inside of the hall are carved all the pages of the Koran on 600 huge wooden boards, 30 of them in Chinese with the others in Arabic. The hall can hold up to 1,000 people although non-Muslims are not allowed to enter.