Brief information on The Muslim Quarter of Xi’an
Xi’an is a historically important city, the easternmost point on the ancient Silk Road trading route, used for many hundreds of years as a trading route between the east and west. As such, this brought many traders and businessmen from other parts of Asia and the Middle East to the area, and this is still apparent today, illustrated by the ethnic and cultural makeup of Xi’an. The descendents of some of those families are still living here in Xi’an, with many concentrated in what is now Hui Min Jie - literally, “Hui People’s Street” (since the large majority of Xi’an’s Muslims are of the Hui ethnic group), or as it is more commonly known to local English-speakers, “the Muslim Quarter”.
This place is found situated in the city centre, on the northern side of the Drum Tower. The Muslim Quarter, rightly or wrongly, is best known for two things: Firstly, the alley lined with market stalls that lead eager shoppers deeper and deeper into haggling-hell, and secondly, the amazing selection of tasty snack food that is available there.
The Muslim Quarter is a good place to head for when looking for those hard-to-find souvenirs. Amongst the fake watches and decks of “Iraq’s Most Wanted” playing cards there are actually some good deals to be found. Popular buys include silk scarves, name chops (with your name, in Chinese characters, hand-carved into them), colourful farmers’ paintings from nearby Hu County, and traditional Shaanxi handicrafts, like the delicate and beautiful ‘paper cuts’. Just don’t forget to bargain hard!
The Muslim Quarter also has a reputation for being the snack centre of Xi’an, and walking up the main street from the Drum Tower, it is easy to see why. The street is lined on both sides with a seemingly never-ending selection of sweet and savoury snacks, ranging from dried fruit, to meat kebabs, to fried pancakes, to dumplings, to a number of cake-like creations, many of which are unique to this part of China. Whether eating on the move, sitting at makeshift street-side cafes or inside a more conventional restaurant, you are sure to find something great to eat here.
At the heart of the Muslim Quarter lies the Great Mosque, found in the middle of the alley of market stalls, and it is truly an oasis of calm in the surrounding bustling insanity. Built around 700 AD, the Great Mosque is somewhat unique in that the architecture is mainly Chinese in style, lacking the major traditional attributes of mosques such as domed roofs and minarets, though retaining a certain Middle Eastern flavour in some smaller design features such as engravings. Consisting of a central courtyard containing old stone tablets and ornate carvings, and enclosed by several low buildings, it is an actively used mosque with local Muslims still called to prayer each day. However, in exchange for a small fee, visitors are welcome to enter, have a relaxing stroll around, take pictures and soak up the atmosphere for a while, before heading back into the craziness that lurks just outside.
The Muslim Quarter is also home to a true hidden gem. With a small, unassuming doorway on the main street, it simply doesn’t attract the tourist traffic that it really deserves. Towards the north end of the main street, on the left, is a door leading to the grounds of a home once owned by a wealthy local family (“Gao Jia Da Yuan”). Many of the buildings and their original architecture are well preserved, and are open to the public. Inside, weary travellers can rest their feet for a while as they partake in a Chinese tea ceremony, watch a traditional puppet show, and admire the artwork and original antique furnishings on display, lit in the evening by traditional red paper lanterns.
*You can download the bilingual note to show it to a taxi driver or someone else to find your way to The Muslim Quarter of Xi’an if you plan to visit The Muslim Quarter of Xi’an and have language problems.
Chinese Pinyin: Hui Min Jie
- Previous: Tang Dynasty Music and Dance Show
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