Top 10 Must-See Ancient Tourist Attractions in China

Looking for tourist attractions in China? The Chinese civilization has been in the reckoning for the last 10,000 years and in the process endowed the land with numerous historical attractions. These ancient yet marvelous landmarks symbolize the ability of man to design and construct monuments befitting his social, political, and economic life. A look at these splendors of yore overwhelms any visitor with a gigantic sense of human achievement, cultural accomplishment, and above all, reminds the glorious moments the nation passed through.

Here is a list of the top 10 ancient tourist attractions in China:

Tourist attractions in China - Great wall

1.    The Great Wall of China

For anyone visiting China, the Great Wall is an architectural marvel, stretching for over 5,500 miles and covering a major part of eastern and western China, which continues to be one of the most visited sites in the country. Recognized as a World Heritage, the Great Wall stretches up and down across mountains, grasslands, plateaus, and deserts as an awe-inspiring feat of historic architectural splendor.  This wall was first constructed by the Qin Shi Huang to keep the "non-Han" normadic hordes out of the Middle Kingdom. 

In between these walls, one can see watchtowers so in the past when large number of enemies approached one segment of the wall, the family guarding that portion of the wall would light the beacons on the watchtower and this signal was repeated at all watch towers on the wall until the fire beacon reached the capital and troops dispatched to do battle with the invaders. 

If you watch the Lord of the Rings part 2, where the Hobbits help to light the beacons and the watchtowers were simultaneously lit until it reached the other city, you would understand how this marvel of ancient communication helped defend an empire. 
2.    Mausoleum of Qin Terracotta Warriors and Horses in Xian

One of the most famous archeological excavations of the 20th century, the Museum of Qin Terracotta Warriors boasts life size terracotta figures of horses and warriors arranged in battle formations, reflecting how the imperial guard of Qin Shi Huang (the first emperor of a unified China) looked like in those days. The splendid replicas of horses, chariots, soldiers, and weapons are a sensational archeological discovery that has put Xian on the tourist map.

3.    Shaolin Temples

A group of famed Chinese monasteries, Shaolin Temples located in the foothills of the sacred Song Shan Mountain, are world famous for their association with Chan Buddhism. The Chinese martial art of Kung Fu was born at Shaolin, which is also renowned as the birthplace of Zen Buddhism movement. Two of the major highlights here include the Hall of a Thousand Buddhas and the Shadow Stone. 

Whilst visiting Songshan Shao Lin, one can imagine the battle monks there clad in their full attire ready to protect the temple against other martial artists who often go there to test their skills against the best.  Shaolin also has a famous library of material arts where scrolls of various martial arts forms were collected and analysed there. 

Longmen Grottoes - tourist attractions in China

4.    Longmen Grottoes

With the most striking collection of Chinese art of the Tang Dynasty, Longmen Grottoes (see above) comprise 2,300 caves carved into steep limestone cliffs.  Located on both sides of the Yi River, the grottoes represent the highest point of Chinese stone carving. These Chinese stone marvels are world famous for 110,000 Buddhist stone statues, 2,800 inscriptions, and 60 stupas carved on steles - all of which are devoted to the Buddhist religion. 

Whilst visiting this tourist attraction in China, I found some female Buddhist statutes and one hypothesis is that these statutes were carved for Wu Zetian, the first female emperor of China during the Tang Dynasty.  Another theory is that Guanyin, the female Goddess of mercy also appeared during this period in history (as the Guanyin in India where Buddhism is from is male).
5.    Leshan Giant Buddha

The tallest stone statue of Buddha, the Giant Buddha of Leshan is artistically carved out of a cliff in the western province of Sichuan. The giant Buddha statue overlooks the confluence of the Qingyi, Dadu, and Minjiang Rivers. Also known as Dafu, the Maitreya Buddha statue with its three-meter-long fingers shares its world heritage status with the sacred Mount Emei, which stands adjacent to it.   These sacred Mountains are also well known for Kungfu and martial arts and many kungfu practitioners have gone there to pay homage to these mountains. 

6.    Mogao Caves

Ideally situated along the Silk Route, the Mogao Caves are world famous for their intricate system of 492 temples, housing scriptures, statues, and wall paintings. Carved into the cliffs above the Dachuan River, Mogao Caves are one of the oldest treasure houses of Buddhist art, known for their ancient rock-cut statues.

7.    The Temple of Heaven

Built by Ming Dynasty as a place of worship for the emperors, the Temple of Heaven is beautifully set in Beijing's Tiantan Park. What sets the religious site apart is its square building and round roofs, representing the earth and haven, respectively. Other important ancient sites here include The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests and The Imperial Vault of Heaven, and The Circular Mound Altar. 

8.    Forbidden City

An itinerary to the ancient tourist attractions in China is incomplete if it does not include a visit to the Forbidden City. Popularly known as the world's largest palace, the Forbidden City complex comprises 980 buildings encircled by a 10-meter-high wall and a 6-meter-deep moat. Once the Chinese Imperial Palace for over five centuries, the Forbidden City has turned into a museum, with its landscaped gardens and architectural marvels. 

What most people do not know is why its call the "Forbidden City".  During the period of the Ming Dynasty where Kublai Khan ruled, the Mongolians still stayed in their tents behind the wall of Forbidden City and it was forbidden for normal people to go in to see this sight as the Mongolians wanted ordinary Chinese to accept them as their mandated Rulers from heaven. 

9.    Nanjing Confucius Temple

The renovated Confucius Temple building complex is another iconic landmark in Chinese architecture. Originally built in 1034 as a place of worship, the Temple suffered extensive damage and was rebuilt in the architectural style of the Ming and Qing Dynasties. The Qin Huai River, the longest screen brick wall of China, and Dacheng Hall are must-see sights here.

10.    Qianling Mausoleum

Last on the list of tourist attractions in China, Qianling Mausoleum is located on the peak of the Liangshan Hill in Xian and has many distinctions to its credit. It is the only Chinese mausoleum shared by two personalities. The historic site, with a tomb of Emperor Gaozong and Empress Wu Zetian along with other 18 mausoleums holds a prominence place in Chinese stone architecture, with charismatic tall, upright pillars and elegant and exquisite stone sculptures scattered throughout the complex.

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