Xian Great Mosque: Essential Travel Tips

Xian Great Mosque is the largest mosque in China. It's a sacred place representing a mixture of Chinese and Islamic architecture. The mosque is still being used as a place for praying mostly by Hui people and other Chinese Muslims.

The Xi’an Great Mosque is one of the most significant and enduring symbols of the cultural exchange between the Middle East and China, located in the heart of Xi’an, a city formerly known as Chang’an and famed for being the eastern terminus of the Silk Road. This mosque is not just a religious site but also an architectural wonder that blends classic Chinese design with Islamic influences. Founded in the Tang Dynasty, around the 8th century, the mosque was constructed and expanded upon over several dynasties, which is reflected in its varied architectural styles and myriad inscriptions in both Arabic and Chinese.

Covering an area of over 12,000 square meters, the Xi’an Great Mosque is a complex of five courtyards, each with its unique function and design. The Prayer Hall, situated in the fourth courtyard, is the largest structure within the complex and can accommodate up to a thousand worshippers. The mosque’s beauty is subtle; its minarets take the form of traditional Chinese pagodas, and intricate blue tiles adorn its walls, seamlessly blending it into the urban fabric of the Muslim Quarter in which it resides. (Video Credit: Walkabout Asia)

Why Visiting

Xi’an Great Mosque as a Tourist Destination

As a tourist destination, the Xi’an Great Mosque holds a place of great significance due to its historical, cultural, and architectural value. It stands as a testament to the peaceful coexistence of Chinese culture with Islamic traditions, offering a unique perspective on the religious and cultural syncretism that can occur along trade routes such as the Silk Road.

For history enthusiasts, the mosque provides an opportunity to delve into the narrative of Islam in China and explore the adaptability of Islamic architecture to local artistic traditions. Culture seekers can immerse themselves in the vibrant life of the Muslim Quarter, which surrounds the mosque, partaking in the rich culinary traditions and witnessing the daily life of one of Xi’an’s Hui Muslim communities.

Moreover, the Xi’an Great Mosque is a liveable history lesson on the Silk Road’s impact on global trade, religion, and culture. Visitors can admire the various steles with inscriptions that offer insights into the lives of Muslims in China throughout the centuries. As a well-preserved Islamic heritage site, it is an essential stop for those who wish to understand the breadth and depth of the cultural exchanges that shaped much of Asia’s history. The non-intrusive way in which the mosque has been maintained and respected also serves as an example of religious tolerance and cultural preservation, making it a profound location for those looking to understand the social fabric of ancient and modern China.

Tourist Guide

Preparing for Your Visit

How to get there
By BusTake buses 205, 215, 221, 222, 251, 252, and any other buses that help you to reach Zhonglou Xi Station. Walk in the north direction to reach the Drum Tower and then, walk through the northwest direction for about 5 minutes to find the mosque.
By MetroTake buses 205, 215, 221, 222, 251, 252, and any other buses that help you to reach Zhonglou Xi Station. Walk in the north direction to reach the Drum Tower and then, walk through the northwest direction for about 5 minutes to find the mosque.
Ticket Prices
March-November25 Yuan
December-February15 Yuan
MuslimsFree
Opening Hours
Every day08:00-19:00

The great mosque is located in a district called the Muslim Quarter, which is inhabited by over 20,000 Muslims. In this area, you can find many other mosques as well as Muslim food and souvenir markets. So, at the time of visiting Xi’an, don’t forget to take a look at this amazing mosque and share your ideas with us. Besides, rest assured that your questions will be replied as soon as possible in the comment section.

What’s Inside

Exploring the Xian Great Mosque

Xian Great Mosque has four courtyards inside and when you enter the first courtyard, you can see magnificent dragons. The gardens with their beauty, add to the mosque’s tranquil environment. The names chosen for the courtyards contribute to the tranquility of the Xian Great Mosque complex. The names are Qing Xiu Dian (Place of Meditation), Xing Xin Ting (Pavilion for Introspection), and Sheng Xin Lou (Tower of the Visiting Heart).

1

The First Courtyard

In the first courtyard, there is a 17th-century ornate wooden arch that is around 29.5 feet (9 meters) tall and covered with Chinese glazed tiles.

2

The Second Courtyard

Besides architectural magnificence, the Xian Great Mosque also has some rare calligraphic and textual gems too.

When you enter the second courtyard, you can find two towering steles carved with Chinese calligraphy. One of these steles was created by a renowned Song Dynasty calligrapher named Mi Fu. Another stele, on the other hand, was created by another calligrapher named Dong Qichang from the Ming Dynasty.

3

The Third Courtyard

There is a prayer hall from the Southern Song Dynasty Near the third courtyard named Chixiu Hall. Here you can see Islamic stele in multiple languages including Arabic, Persian, and Chinese.

The third courtyard or “Place of Meditation” has the mosque’s tallest tower inside. This tower, also known as the “Pavilion for Introspection” or “Tower of the Visiting Heart”, has a height of 33 feet (10 meters). This octagonal structure has two functions, the minaret of the mosque and also a pavilion to watch the moon.

4

The Fourth Courtyard

When you enter the fourth courtyard you will face a hexagonal pavilion named “Phoenix Pavilion” which looks like a phoenix with its wings spread toward the sides. If you visit the halls near this area, you can find they are filled with furniture, sculptures, Arabic calligraphy, etc. all preserved like a museum.

Phoenix Pavilion Prayer Hall

If you continue your path from the Phoenix Pavilion you will reach the large turquoise-roofed Prayer Hall left since the Ming Dynasty, This area is about 14,000 square feet (1,300 square meters) and is filled with hanging lanterns and Chinese plaques which show the Islamic belief.

Quran

Inside the mosque will leave you in awe. Here you will see another mixture of Islamic architecture and Chinese one. You can even see verses of the Quran in both Chinese and Arabic which is a scene not to be missed.

The Xian Great Mosque is something one of a kind and is recommended to those who value art, culture, and history of different nations.

How to Go

Cultural Etiquette and Tips

Dress Code and Behavior Guidelines

When visiting the Xi’an Great Mosque, or any place of worship, it is crucial to approach with respect and consideration for the cultural and religious practices that take place there. Modesty is paramount; both men and women should opt for attire that covers shoulders and knees. Loose-fitting, long-sleeved tops and long trousers or skirts are appropriate choices. Avoid wearing loud or flashy clothing, as the primary goal is to not draw undue attention or cause distraction.

Behavior within the mosque should be equally respectful. Loud conversations and laughter are considered inappropriate. Visitors should also turn off or silence mobile phones to maintain the sanctity and serenity of the mosque. When walking through the mosque, be aware of your surroundings and avoid areas designated for prayer, especially during prayer times, out of respect for worshippers.

Photography is often allowed in mosque courtyards and gardens, but it’s essential to look for signs indicating any restrictions or ask a member of staff before taking pictures, especially inside the prayer halls. When in doubt, err on the side of caution and refrain from photographing people in prayer or other private moments.

Interaction with Worshippers and Staff

Engaging with worshippers and staff at the Xi’an Great Mosque should be done with sensitivity and politeness. Always speak in a quiet and friendly manner. If you have questions or need assistance, approach staff members who are not currently engaged in their prayers or religious duties, as interrupting these activities is considered very disrespectful.

If you happen to visit during prayer times, it’s recommended to stand back and observe quietly without interrupting the worshippers. Should you be interested in learning more about the practices or history of the mosque, it’s best to wait until prayer services have concluded to approach anyone for a conversation.

Make sure to follow the lead of the staff or posted signs when it comes to handshakes or other forms of greeting. In some Islamic cultures, physical contact between individuals of opposite genders who are not related is avoided, so it’s wise to wait for the other person to extend their hand first or to use verbal greetings instead.

Lastly, if you are invited to participate in any activities or to accept any form of hospitality, it is polite to accept with gratitude. Showing appreciation for such gestures is a crucial part of cultural etiquette and helps build mutual respect and understanding.

The Story

The History of Xian Great Mosque

Xian Great Mosque is rather old dating back to the 8th century under the rule of the Tang Dynasty. Although the mosque was founded back then, the remaining parts today are mostly from the Ming and Qing Dynasties.

The Tang Dynasty era was a period filled with peace, trade, influx, and freedom of religion. Xian Great Mosque was built in this period because people from the Middle East had a very good chance of trading, traveling, and relocating to China.

Inside the mosque, you can find some hand-written copies of the Holy Quran which date back to the Qing Dynasty. Also, there is a picture of “Mecca”, a Muslim city in Saudi Arabia, as well as around 20 inscriptions written in Arabic and Chinese.

Xian Great Mosque in China
Xian Great Mosque, China

The architecture of the Xian Great Mosque

Xian Great Mosque is a complex with different sections inside. The area includes four courtyards and occupies around 129,000 square feet (12,000 square meters).

If you have the chance to see this beautiful Chinese treasure from a close distance, you can understand the Arab influences. These influences start from the central minaret, which has the same look as a pagoda to the astonishing turquoise-roofed Prayer Hall (unfortunately not open to non-Muslim visitors) at the back of the complex dating back to the Ming dynasty.

Another interesting point about the Xian Great Mosque is the direction it faces. Usually, buildings face south in China, but Xian Great Mosques, like almost every mosque in the world, face the holy city of Mecca and in this case, to the west.

Xian Great Mosque is also a very beautiful place in spring when the magnolias are blooming in white and pink. The mosque can be considered a true haven of solitude and an oasis of tranquility located in a crowded area of the city.

Xian Great Mosque is a sanctuary for Muslims, but as you know already, it features classic Chinese temple features too.
These features include:

  • Spirit Walls – to keep demons at bay
  • The stele on the Backs of Antediluvian Bixi – mythical creatures usually seen in Confucian temples that look like tortoises
  • Memorial Arches
  • Glazed-Tile Chinese-Style Roofing
  • The Gardens
  • Pagodas

Good to Know

Muslims in China

There is an engraved stone tablet inside the Xian Great Mosque which states it was built in 742 during the Tang Dynasty (618-907). The reason for building the Xian Great Mosque lies in the commercial exchanges that the Chinese had with people from the Middle East.

So these commercial exchanges led to cultural exchanges and Islam started being introduced into Northwest China. Most of this happened by Arab merchants or other travelers from Persia (modern-day Iran) and Afghanistan in the mid-7th century.

Xian Great Mosque: Essential Travel Tips 1

When these people came to China, some of them settled down and married a woman of Han Nationality. These immigrants’ descendants later became Muslims today in modern-day China. Muslims had a crucial effect on the unification of China, especially during the Yuan and Ming Dynasties.

If you are curious about the course of history and its events, you can find some known Chinese figures who come from this line of events like the beloved national Chinese figure, Zheng He whose ancestor was Ajall Shams al-Din Omar from the city of Bukhara in modern-day Uzbekistan.

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