Everyone visiting Xi’an always makes such a song and dance about going to see the Terracotta Warriors. Personally I would advise anyone going to Xi’an to make sure they leave enough time not only to see the old city, but best of all to see the area around Dayanta.
Dayanta? That’s what's known as the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, an iconic symbol of Xi’an. And the Big Wild Goose Pagoda is part of the Tang Ci'en Temple Site Park. Together with a number of squares and gardens built to present the grandness of the pagoda and the cultural spirit of the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907), this is an area not to be missed.
To the north is the famous North Square with a spectacular musical fountain; to the east are the Tang Ci'en Temple Site Park and the East Garden; to the west lies the West Garden; and to the south the South Square sits in front of the main gate of the Da Ci'en Temple.
The local maps show the overall layout, though I always have difficulty in understanding why people insist on putting south at the top and north at the bottom!
At the tip of the northern end, are so-called “Culture columns of the Tang dynasty”, seven metres tall, and 1.5m in diameter. They are made of red sandstone and have auspicious patterns and images on them which are found in Buddhism. There are also huge floral displays, though whether these are an all-year-round feature I simply don’t know.
On the two sides of the area, two pedestrian streets link the North and the South Squares. As well as the normal tourist bric-à-brac and ice cream stalls, this is an area where people come out to dance and generally enjoy themselves. Charming!
Head on further south towards the pagoda and there’s a nicely carved frieze showing off horses and chariots heading off into battle.
Enjoy it while you can, because in a short while it will be covered by a gigantic waterfall stretching the entire width of the central area.
The Big Wild Goose Pagoda itself, (大雁塔: Dàyàn tǎ), was built in 652 during the Tang dynasty and originally had five storeys. It was rebuilt 50 years later after it collapsed, with an extra five storeys added. But a massive earthquake in 1556 heavily damaged the pagoda and reduced it to its current height of seven storeys. It was renovated once again in 1964 and now stands 64 metres tall.
The pagoda is unusual in that it was built with layers of bricks without any cement used at all. The bracket style used in traditional Chinese architecture was also used.
As for the reason why it is called Big Wild Goose Pagoda, the story goes that there were two branches of Buddhism, for one of which eating meat was not a taboo. One day, the monks could find no meat to buy. But a group of big wild geese were flying by, and the leading goose broke its wing and fell to the ground. All the monks believed that Bodhisattva showed his spirit to order them to be more pious. They established a pagoda where the wild goose fell and stopped eating meat.
One of the pagoda's many functions was to hold sutras and figurines of the Buddha that were brought to China from India by the Buddhist translator and traveller Xuanzang, who translated Sanskrit scriptures and developed theories of consciousness, karma and rebirth that were adopted by some later schools of Buddhism.
Xuanzang travelled for 17 years, through 100 countries, and obtained Buddha figures, 657 kinds of sutras, and several Buddha relics. As the first abbot of Da Ci'en Temple, he supervised the building of the pagoda inside it.
The focus of the South Square is a statue of Xuanzang apparently expounding on the Buddhist doctrines.
Impressive though the pagoda is, the main reason the majority of people come here, I suspect, is to see the musical fountains which it is claimed are the largest in Asia (What? Dubai is no longer in Asia???). The fountain display contains 1360 sets of pumps, 1124 sets of transducers, 3300 sets of lamps and more than 2,000 water jets, some of which can send water 60 metres into the air..
The waterscape area covers an area of 15,000 sq m (Dubai is 30,000 sq m!) and is divided into three areas: a 100m Waterfall Pool, Eight-level Plunge Pool and Prelude Music Pool. The central area of the square features 22 different shapes of sprays, including lotuses, a sea of clouds, flying gulls, and a laser water curtain. It even spews out fire from some of the many orifices (though not when I was there unfortunately).
There are plenty of notices around showing the times of the fountain performances, though you should be aware that they can be cancelled owing to “irresistible factors”!
Around the gardens are numerous bronze statues showing diversified folk customs and everyday scenes in Shaanxi. Some are quite cute and attracts many to take selfies with them.
As night starts to fall, the floral displays are lit up and almost come alive.
The detail in the displays is impressive, and if you look closely you can see all kinds of things that are so easy to miss with just a casual glance. I particularly like some of the birds perched on the branches.
And as you turn back for a final sighting of the area, the wave of lights that are hung in the trees, but are reflected so perfectly in the still waters, is truly a sight worth capturing. Well done Xi’an. You made my trip to your city well worthwhile!
To reach the pagoda, temple and fountains, simply take Metro Line 3 to Dayanta Station. It couldn’t be easier!