China · China travel · Travel

Xian’s Muslim Quarter

One of Xian’s major attractions is its Muslim Quarter, a neighborhood and shopping district where most of Xian’s Muslim Hui live ((hence the place’s Chinese name 回民街 Hui MinJie, Hui people’s street), a vivid example of the city’s historical heritage and its prime location as the starting point of the Silk Road leading to Central Asia. The Hui are Han Chinese (possibly with Central Asian and Middle Eastern ancestry) who are Muslims, rather than a distinct ethnicity like the Uighurs. They’ve been living in Xian for over 1,500 years as their ancestors settled down here as traders. 

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The area is filled with restaurants, stores, and food stalls selling all kinds of delicacies like meat kebabs, roujiamos (Chinese type of hamburger), and Xinjiang naan bread. I visited this place twice, once at night and once on Saturday morning, and both times it was packed full with visitors, many of whom are Chinese. At night, the streets were nicely lit up, as many Chinese tourist sites are, and the main streets and lanes were full of people. I bought a cool Xian city map that was filled with attractions drawn onto it. I also bought a few mini-terracotta keychains from a vendor, who nicely explained each one, but wasn’t satisfied when I only bought several and desperately screamed, which was a little jarring.

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Besides the food and shopping, one of the main sights is the Great Mosque (Da Qingzhensi), the largest mosque in the area and built in the year 742. What is unique about it is that it’s a mosque built in the shape and style of traditional Chinese architecture. There’re no tipped onion-shaped domes or minarets here, like what regular mosques have. The main prayer hall resembles a Chinese temple, albeit with Arabic writing. There are even stone steles with Arabic (and Chinese). Unlike what the name suggest, the mosque isn’t that big, but it and its surrounding buildings and gardens are well worth a look. Frankly I didn’t think it was possible to build a mosque in traditional Chinese architecture, just like you won’t see a church built in Chinese style. There’s a nice peaceful atmosphere inside that is completely at odds with the vast commercial activity outside.

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The Great Mosque’s prayer hall, where services are held.

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The pavilion in the main garden in the Grand Mosque complex.

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Covered shopping lane right outside the Grand Mosque, with a cute kid riding around.

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Naan bread for sale, and one friendly and one oblivious clerk.

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These items seems more Tibetan or Yunnannese than Hui or Xinjiang.

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Bought a naan bread from these guys and girl. The guy in the middle seems like a bit of a smartass, but he actually spoke a little English to me, after I was confused by something he said. 

 

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Stone stele with Arabic writing.

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Shopping lane right next to the Grand Mosque, whose outer wall is at left.

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