This is the start of the Silk Road, where camel trains set off for their long cross-country journey, laden with the finest silk cloth from China, a much-prized and sought-after material in the West.
The ancient capital of Xian is also home to one of the world's most stupendous sights, the world-famous Terracotta Warriors of China's First Emperor. At an excavated pit outside the city, thousands of the life-sized warriors are lined up in formation ¡ª each one with a unique stance and expression.
The warriors were meant to guard Emperor Qin Shi Huang on his journey to the afterlife, giving him protection from evil spirits. The soldiers on display ¡ª impressive though they are ¡ª form only a small section of the 8,000 or more known to be arranged in and around the area of the emperor's tomb.
Archaeologists think the tomb itself may contain hidden traps, such as poisoned arrows, primed to fire at robbers, and are wary of excavating until technology can reveal the exact contents. This mystery serves to add to the aura surrounding the Terracotta Warriors.
The warriors show the size and scale of the First Emperor's vision for himself ¡ª and China as a whole. During his reign, the emperor ordered work to begin on the Great Wall, brought together the warring states, introduced a national system of weight and measurement and standardized the written Chinese language.
Apart from the warrior site, located close to the city, the Xian area is rich in cultural treasures, reflecting its importance as a capital for ancient feudal dynasties. The city walls were completed in 1387, and can be strolled today, allowing a superb view of Xian from on high.
Many of Xian's other tourism draws, including the Bell and Drum Towers and the Great Mosque, are contained within the city walls. But it is the warriors that pull people to Xian: they are a visible link with China's gloriously rich imperial past.