A Digital Reconstruction of Tang Chang'an

English |中文
National University of Singapore | Temasek Polytechnic | Institute of High Performance Computing
Gallery | Flash
Bentley Microstation | EON Reality

Urban Structure

Chang'an like many other Tang cities was organized by a gridiron plan that ordered the city into clear functional zones. The checkerboard layout of Chang’an was formed by fourteen latitudinal and eleven longitudinal streets lying east-west (E-W) and north-south (N-S) respectively, dividing the city into an axially symmetrical plan of, theoretically, 130 blocks large and small.2 However, in the north centre, the Palace City and the Imperial City together occupied an area of some 16 blocks. The 2 markets each took up an area of 2 blocks. At the southeastern corner, Qujiang 曲江 Lake and its adjacent park took up the area of at least two other blocks, leaving the city with 108 blocks for residential purposes.

The Network

The checkerboard layout of Chang'an naturally provided the city with a matrix of streets of certain use and distinction. Six of these streets or avenues stood out among the rest and were commonly referred to in contemporary writings as the “Six Avenues”.

The Administrative Heart

The Imperial City was the administrative heart of the empire, covering an area of approximately 2,820 by 1,843 meters or 5.2 km2. Within its large walled enclosure were government offices of both civil and military functions, headquarters of imperial guards, and the offices of the crown prince. It was also here that the emperor came to conduct ritual sacrifices at the imperial ancestral temple (tai miao 太庙 ) and at the imperial heavenly altar (tai she 太社 ).

The Commercial Hub

Situated at the eastern end of the Silk Route, it enjoyed brisk trading activity and was an international bazaar. However, all these commercial affairs took place in two specially designated wards.

The Residential Wards

Chang'an, was divided into 108 walled residential wards of different sizes, taking up about 7/8 of the city. These can be classified generally into five major categories although archaeological records show variations within each category. Except for the smaller wards located along the Imperial Avenue, which were divided into 2 parts by a street running E-W, all others were subdivided into quarters by 2 crisscrossing roads about 15 meters wide, and further organized into 16 sectors by a set of intersecting xiang 巷 or alleys at about 5 to 6 meters wide.

The Religious Retreat

Chang'an was not only the political, cultural and economic hub of the empire then, it was also the centre for all kinds of religions, especially for Buddhism. During the Tang period, there were at least some 192 temples of different kinds scattered within the residential wards in Chang'an.