Great Mosque

A visit to the Muslim quarter in Xian feels like a step back in history and to another culture. To get to the Great Mosque, visitors have to pass through a narrow bazaar street, which are lined withsmall shops selling all kinds of intriguing souvenirs, mainly small decorations and other trinkets and textiles. At the end of the street, on the left, is the entrance to the Great Mosque.

The first Muslims to settle in the Huajue Xiang district were Iranian, Iraqi and Afghan merchants who traveled along the Silk Road before making Xi'an their permanent home. Today, there are about 60,000 Muslims, mainly of the Hui minority, living and working here. The Great Mosque serves as their place of worship, and the community also runs a number of other mosques, as well as its own primary school, restaurants and shops. Immediately next to the Drum Tower, you will find a street packed with small restaurants serving typical Muslim food.  

The Great Mosque which is located at Huajue Lane is the major spot for the religious activities of over 60,000 Moslems in Xi'an. It is the largest and best preserved of the early mosques of China. When we get to the mosque, you will find that this mosque is very different from other Islamic mosques you have visited. Unlike Arabic mosques which have splendid domes, minarets reaching into the clouds, the Mosque at Huajue Lane looks very much like a Chinese temple or garden. It assumes the striking features of Chinese pavilions, with painted beams and engraved ridgepoles.

Like the Great Mosques at Hangzhou, Quanzhou and Guangzhou, the Great Mosque of Xi'an is thought to have existed as early as the seventh century. The mosque that stands today, however, was begun in 1392 in the twenty-fifth year of the Ming Dynasty. Its four courtyards cover ab area of more than 12,000square meters, with a building area of 4,000square meters.

In the first courtyard, there is a wooden arch. This Wooden Memorial Arch was built at the turn of the 17th century. It is about 9meters high and has a history of about 360years. You may have noticed that there are memorial arches in many places in China. Memorial arches usually stand in broad view outside cities, in front of temples or tomb complexes and on park and palace grounds as land marks. They were also frequently erected on imperial order to honor or commemorate a distinguished person. Three chambers stand by each side of the arch, in which now displays some furniture preserved from the Ming and Qing Dynasties.

The stone memorial gateway in the center of the second courtyard is flanked by two tall tablets, with dragons carved on each. They record the details of the repair work ever conducted since the building of the master calligrapher Mi Fu mosque. One tablet bears the characters in the song Dynasty : " May Islam Fill the Universe". The other bears the characters by the Ming master calligrapher Dong Qichang, "Royally Bestowed". These characters are typical examples of traditional Chinese calligraphy.

The New Moon Tablet standing at the entrance of the third courtyard has been used to calculate the Islamic calendar. It was carved in Arabic by imperial orders in the early period of the Qing Dynasty. A three-storied octagonal wooden structure stands in the centre of the third courtyard. The three big characters on the building facing us read "Xing Xin Lou" in Chinese, which means the Retrospection Tower. It functions the same as the minaret in an average Arabian mosque. Orders are often sent from the tower to call the Moslems to come to worship. Respectively on the south and north wings of the tower are the Reception Chamber and the Scripture Chamber. Both of them are elegantly laid out. Moslems must take a shower and appear clean when they attend their services, so bathhouses are must structures in a mosque. The five wooden houses, which are called Water Houses, in the southwest section of the mosque are where the believers bathe themselves before they go to the prayer hall.

Inside the fourth courtyard, there is a structure called the Phoenix Pavilion. This is the place where the worshippers would wait for services. The pavilion, in fact, is a complex of three small buildings. The six-gabled structure in the central part is adjoined by two buildings on each side which make it look like a flying phoenix; hence its name. Just at the back of the pavilion there is a fish pond, and beyond it is a platform with an area of 700 square meters.

The Prayer Hall, the main structure of a mosque, stands in the fourth courtyard. It covers an area of 1,300 square meters and can hold over 1,000 worshippers a a time. The ceiling is painted with over 600 relief panels. The walls of the hall, as well as the relief panels, are decorated with patterns of painted trailing of plants and Arabic letterings. The minbar at the west end of the hall is the place where the imam leads his worshippers, while facing Mecca, to chant Koran.

Today, the Great Mosque is one of the most popular tourist sites of Xi'an. It is also still actively in use, with Chinese Muslims gathering there five times a day for prayer. It is the only mosque in China that is open to visitors. Non-Muslim visitors are not allowed to enter to the main prayer hall.

The Great Mosque was added to the UNESCO Islamic Heritage List in 1985.
Opening Hours: 08:00 - 18:00
Ticket Price: CNY 25