Standing in the Da ci'en Temple of a southern suburb of Xi'an, the Big Wild Goose Pagoda is one of the most famous Chinese ancient structures and has been viewed as the landmark of Xi'an. Originally built in 652 AD during the reign of Emperor Gaozong of Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD), it functioned to collect Buddhist materials that were taken from India by the hierarch Xuanzang. Xuanzang started off from Chang'an (the ancient Xian), along the Silk Road and through deserts, finally arriving in India, the cradle of Buddhism. During 17 years of traversing 100 countries, he obtained Buddha figures, 657 kinds of sutras, and several Buddha relics. Having got permission from Emperor Gaozong (628-683), Xuanzang, as the first abbot of Da Ci'en Temple, supervised the building of a pagoda inside it. With the support of royalty, he asked 50 hierarchs into the temple to translate Sanskrit sutras into Chinese, totaling 1,335 volumes, which heralded a new era in the history of translation. Based on the journey to India, he also wrote a book entitled "Pilgrimage to the West", which provides plenty of valuable materials for studying the history and society of India at that time. The pagoda was thus named because the architectural style was imported from the wild goose pagoda of India. To distinguish the smaller pagoda of the same architecture built later in the Jianfu Temple of Chang'an (the ancient name of Xi'an), people called it the Big Wild Goose Pagoda.
First built to a height of 60 meters (197 feet) with five stories, it is now 64.5 meters (211.6 feet) high with an additional two stories. It was said that after that addition came the saying "Saving a human life exceeds building a seven-storied pagoda". Externally it looks like a square cone, simple but grand, and it is a masterpiece of Buddhist construction. Built of brick, its structure is very solid. Inside the pagoda, stairs twist up so that visitors can climb and overlook the panorama of Xi'an City from the arch-shaped doors on four sides of each storey. On the walls are engraved fine statues of Buddha by the renowned artist Yan Liben of the Tang Dynasty. Steles by noted calligraphers also grace the pagoda.
The multi-story pagoda was an architectural marvel. It was built with layers of bricks but without any cement in between. The bracket style in traditional Chinese architecture was also used in the construction. The seams between each layer of bricks and the ‘prisms' on each side of the pagoda are clearly visible. The grand body of the pagoda with its solemn appearance, simple style and high structure, is indeed a good example of ancient people's wisdom and talent. Pictures of the Heavenly King and of Buddha are on the doorframes and horizontal bars on four sides of the pagoda's base. These stone sculptures display peak workmanship, and show vivid shapes and smooth lines. They now serve as an important source of materials for the study of painting and sculpture of the Tang dynasty. Out of these artistic works, the one on the horizontal bar of the west door is the most precious. It is a rare piece of art, now used for the study of the Tang architecture. Inside the temple where the pagoda is situated, there are two small buildings: the one on the east side houses a bell, and the one on the west side a drum. The bell, an iron cast from the Ming dynasty, weighs 15 tons. Together with the drum, the bell was used to strike the time for the monks in the temple.
Inside the Great Hall of the Buddha in the temple there are the three incarnations of Sakyamuni. The one in the middle is called Dharmakaya., the one on the west side is Bao Shen Buddha, and the one on the opposite side is called Ying Shen Buddha. In the Doctrine Chamber stands the Amitabha Buddha. On the wall at the east side of the chamber there are three rubbings. The one in the middle is called Xuanzang (Monk Tripitaka), who carried the Scriptures from India to Chang'an.