An afternoon visit to the Great Mosque of Xian City
Late one afternoon we visited an Islamic Mosque, the ancient Great Mosque of Xian city. The Great Mosque located northwest of the Drum Tower on Huaju Lane. Considered to be the oldest, and the largest and best-preserved Islamic Mosque in China.
It was almost dusk as we arrived. A quiet and peaceful evening at the Great Mosque with the afternoon shadows falling across the ancient stone walls and pathways. Elderly men walked through ancient gateways towards the prayer hall to answer the evening call to prayer. Some were already seated outside the prayer hall perhaps chatting about the days events, or just sharing the serenity of the evening.
History of the Islamic Mosque in Xian City
The Great Mosque was built during the Tang dynasty 618-907. The Great Mosque located in the heart of the Muslim quarter has a history of over 1,250 years. Historical records engraved on a stone tablet inside the mosque show it was originally built in 742. This was as a result of Islam being introduced into North West China by Arab merchants and travelers from other countries during the burgeoning trade along the great Silk Road.
Many of the Arab merchants and traders eventually settled in China and married Han people. The Great Mosque constructed at that time to honor the founders of Islamic faith in China. It became the religious center for Arab merchants operating in China. Since then, many other mosques have been built across China.
The Islamic Mosque restored many times over the centuries, the surviving buildings date from the Qing dynasty. Today the Great Mosque of Xian serves over 60,000 Chinese Muslims in Xian city.
The Great Mosque of Xian City combines traditional Chinese architecture and Islamic art
The Great Mosque of Xian city, a combination of traditional Chinese architecture and Islamic Art. It has the layout of a Chinese temple with a series of courtyards on a single axis with pavilions and pagodas adapted to suit Islamic function. The axis aligned from east to west-facing Mecca.
The Mosque has five courtyards. The first courtyard has a pink 30 ft high elaborately decorated wooden arch, which stands opposite a huge screen wall decorated with carvings. Adornment of the wooden arch consists of five tiers of Dougong brackets below the roof. The wooden arch was built in the 17th century and is now some 360 years old.
In the second courtyard stands a three arch stone gateway, the middle arch higher than the side ones. Each gateway has an inscription in Chinese. There are two steles on both sides of the stone gateway with floral motifs carved in the brick, and stone dragon heads crowning the hipped roof. On the steles are famous calligraphic writings from ancient calligraphers.
The third courtyard houses an octagonal pagoda known as the Xing Xin Ting or “Pavilion for Introspection”. It is the tallest tower in the complex rising over ten meters in height. It has a dual purpose as it serves as the minaret for calling Muslims to prayer, and as a moon watching pavilion (or bangke tower).
The Introspection Pavilion designed in a traditional Chinese style with three stories separated by eaves, decorated with blue glazed tiles and dragon heads. Inside, look up, and see the beautifully carved ceiling with brightly painted pink lotus flowers.
The gateway into the fourth courtyard features moss-covered ancient blue tiles with wooden doors. This leads to the Phoenix Pavilion, the principal Pavilion of the great mosque, and here you will find the main prayer hall. As decreed by traditional custom, prayer services are held five times a day respectively, at dawn, noon, afternoon, dusk and night.
Beyond the Phoenix Pavilion are two small pools, containing fountains, situated on the central axis, followed by the stone “Cloud Gateways” standing between the Pray Hall and the “Moon Platform”. The Cloud Gateways have inscriptions carved in the stone in Arabic.
The fifth courtyard behind the prayer hall is accessible through two round moon gates. Here, on two small man-made hills, ceremonial viewing of the new moon takes place.
The Great Mosque is the only Islamic mosque in China that is open to visitors from 8am to 7pm. The prayer hall closed to non-Muslims. Friday is the Muslim holy day so it is best not to visit on that day.
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