Authorities in Xi'an, capital of northwest China's Shaanxi Province, are hoping the ruins of a 1,300-year-old market will be inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List as a landmark along the ancient Silk Road.
The West Market, known as the starting point of the famous trade route that linked Asia and Europe, had been included in the transnational application for the Silk Road and major historical sites along the route for the World Heritage list, said Lu Jianzhong, owner of Datang Xishi Museum, a privately-run museum of the ancient market.
The joint application, by China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan, would be submitted to UNESCO in 2011, Lu said.
The West Market is one of the 48 nominees along the Chinese section of the 7,000-km Silk Road for the joint application. Other sites include the ruins of ancient cities, temples, imperial mausoleums and grottoes in Henan, Shaanxi, Gansu and Qinghai provinces, Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region and Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.
As the starting point of the route, the West Market was an important heritage site for China and the world, said Michael Petzet, former president of the International Council of Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), who was in Xi'an for a forum on heritage preservation.
China's conservation of the West Market ruins was also exemplary, he said.
It is the first such site in China to be preserved with privatefunds.
Lu Jianzhong, a private business owner, said he hoped his museum would help excavate and preserve the ancient market, which dated from the Tang Dynasty (618-907), the most prosperous period in Chinese history.
Authorities tried to excavate the ruins of the market twice in the 1950s and 1960s, but failed to produce a comprehensive preservation plan. Archaeologists believe most buildings of the ancient market, spanning more than 100 hectares, are still buried 1.8 to 2.5 meters under modern homes and office buildings in downtown Xi'an.
The city government of Xi'an decided in 2001 to restore part of the market at its original site and Lu's company won the bid with an initial investment of 300 million yuan (44 million U.S. dollars) for a museum to exhibit some of the archeological findings, including stone bridges and tracks of horse carts that dated back more than 1,000 years.
The city government's 2006 plan to "revive the ancient capital's past glory" by building Tang style shops at the site, however, was widely criticized for its potential harm to the underground heritage.
To date, Lu's museum and a curio market are the only two structures standing on the 33-hectare site the government has allocated for the new West Market complex.
Between the Sui (581-618) and Tang dynasties, two markets, the East and West, evolved into two major commercial centers in Xi'an. The East Market catered mainly to the local population, and the West to international visitors, according to Chinese historical records.
Many people believe the Chinese word for "shopping" -- "mai dong xi" -- came from these two ancient markets: to buy (mai), east (dong) and west (xi). Source: Xinhua News