I was standing in a sacred location, a place that has served the Muslim community of Xi’an for more than a millennium. I was in China’s oldest and most renowned mosque. Laid out like a traditional Chinese Temple, the Great Mosque of Xian was built in 742 AD during the Tang Dynasty.
The Great Mosque was built to honour the founding of Islam in China. The religion was brought to the country by an Arab ambassador to the Tang emperor in the 7th century, less than 20 years after the death of prophet Muhammad. Located in the heart of the Muslim Quater, the mosque was frequented by descendants of the Silk Road merchants who came to China from Persia, Central Asia and the Middle East. However, the number of Arab traders operating in China was relatively small. It was not until the 13th century, when Kublai Khan expanded the Chinese empire westward, that the large numbers of Muslims were forcibly resettled in China as soldiers and artisans. Although most of these Muslims maintained their cultural heritage, they gradually mingled with the Chinese, creating a distinct minority known as the “Hui people”.
I meandered my way through the Muslim Quarter, through its narrow paths with parallel trading shops on either side that were selling handicrafts and jewellery. I was tempted to buy a few trinkets but my aim was to get to the mosque first. As I ducked swiftly to avoid a sturdy and very tall trader that walked past me carrying a heavy load of gunnysacks on his shoulders, I suddenly realised that I had reached a fork in the path that led to the mosque. One small right turn and I had arrived.
The edge of the roofing structure that could be seen from above the high walls looked nothing like a dome. I was intrigued. The mosque is a fascinating blend of Chinese and Arabic architectural influences. You will find Arabic calligraphy on the walls, but the typical domes and minarets of a typical mosque is not seen anywhere throughout the grounds. Instead, the great most of Xi’an consist of pagodas, archways and spirit walls that are synonymous with a classic Chinese temple.
The wooden memorial archway was built over 390 years ago.
The mosque was restored and widened in the Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties. The mosque covers a total area of more than 13,000 square meters with the buildings covering over 6,000 square meters.
The stone memorial gateways were built during the Ming Dynasty.
The mosque is built in a shape of a rectangle from the east to the west, and is divided into four courtyards.
One of the two steles of the stone gateway with floral motifs carved in the brick, and stone dragon heads crowning the hipped roof.
A local Chinese Muslim man of Hui descent that I made friends with at the mosque who allowed me to photograph him.
The prayer hall and pagoda were under maintenance with scaffolding around it, so I did not take any photos of them. Non-Muslims are not allowed to enter the prayer halls but can wander around the courtyards freely.
**I was a guest of Tigerair. All opinions are entirely my own.