Perhaps because, unlike sites like the Terracotta Warriors (which had been my number one China bucket list item--photos soon!), I had no preconceptions, no one else's images in my head of what it would be like. Xi'an used to be the eastern end of the Silk Road trading route, and during the reign of more tolerant dynasties, such as the Ming (14th - 17th century), an Islamic but Sinicized community established itself in Xi'an. Today, about 20,000 Muslims live in this quarter of the old city of Xi'an.
We found ourselves strolling through Xian's Muslim Quarter at the end of a long day of touring, having already seen the Terracotta Warriors in the morning and the Big Wild Goose Pagoda and Xi'an's Great City Wall in the afternoon. Thankfully, I had agreed with our guide that yes, even though we were tired, we did want to visit the Muslim Quarter.
According to my writer acquaintance Wenguang Huang, author of The Little Red Guard, who grew up in Xi'an, the Muslim Quarter is the only neighborhood within the old city walls that is still mostly original and hasn't been destroyed by massive development yet.
After the teeming food market, the dry goods market in Xi'an's Muslim Quarter was almost deserted, much unlike the dry goods markets in the Old City of Jerusalem.