We are here in Shaanxi Province. Local history takes me from the eleventh century BC through to the middle of the tenth century. Formerly known as Chang'an, this metropolis dominated the silk roads, a prestigious crossroads where the Byzantines, Turks, and Persians passed through. Here, thirteen dynasties rose and fell, including the Tang Dynasty, who made it their capital.
Lovers of the country's heritage may suggest that it could have remained the country's most important city. It must be said that even today, it is a major tourist attraction as well as an industrial, technical and scientific powerhouse and the site of a first-rate university.
Several years ago, I was able to view a sample of the fantastic cultural heritage of the city of Xi'an in the Pinacothèque Gallery in Paris. And here I am today, face-to-face with it for real.
It's the story of a peasant, a Mr Yang, who was digging a well in the village square when he struck an ancient relic with his pickaxe. Mr Yang had the idea of taking his discovery to the authorities and everything changed overnight. Excavation works revealed an imperial terracotta army of thousands of soldiers as far as the eye could see. Such a treasure naturally led the city of Xi'an to become world famous.
The tomb is truly very impressive. More than 7,000 life-size statues are lined up as far as the eye can see. I see some tourists spending just a few minutes in front of each pit, and it fills me with regret. Careful and precise viewing is needed, which takes time, in order to notice how each face is so different from all the others, how the clothes are sculpted based on rank, and more generally the vast scale of such a work. You have undoubtedly already seen reproductions and photos of these soldiers, but don't think that means you know or understand them: coming face-to-face with them is the only way to appreciate the scale of the achievement.
Emperor Qin Shihuangdi had united China and wished to remain in memory, in a way that was discreet yet grandiose. Mission accomplished!
But I can't sum up the city of Xi'an by talking only about its majestic army. Temples, Huaqing Hot Springs, and other historic sites are also worth visiting.
Xi'an offers something to enthuse even the most demanding visitor. A walk on the city walls is all it takes to recognize how fantastic its architecture is. In perfect condition, the city wall is actually made up of two walls with a gap in between them, and its apparent solidity is quite surprising. I enjoyed riding my bike around - heads up if you enjoy that sort of thing!
I enjoyed the large Wild Goose Pagoda, particularly the old legends that it relates. Built during the Tang Dynasty, it is emblematic of Xi'an's rich heritage. Its elegance and its perfectly executed structure make it a particularly nice place to be. Visitors will be carried away by their dreams.
With all these wonders, I could almost forget all the other monuments that surround us: the 6,000 year-old ruins of the village of Banpo, the headstone museum or the Grand Mosque that was built in 742. There's something for you - whatever you're into.