By Xinhua writers Guan Xinguo, Cao Kai and Gui Juan
LUOYANG, Henan, Sept. 19 (Xinhua) -- Before the middle of the 10th century, the city of Luoyang was already a bustling metropolis - for half of its then 3,000-year-old history it had been the capital of some 13 dynasties.
However, despite being home to six UNESCO World Heritage sites, the city in central China's Henan Province is not as well known as its western peers like Athens and Rome. The modern city landscape gives few clues of its historic past.
The often forgotten capital has been overshadowed by Xi'an, known for its Terracotta Army. But Luoyang is planning to step out of the shadows and reclaim its former glory.
Construction began in June on a massive museum located at the site of ruins from the Xia Dynasty (2070-1600 BC), with the aim of recreating scenes from more than 3,000 years ago.
It will be called the Erlitou Relic Museum and is expected to be completed in October 2019. The museum will cover about 14 hectares and cost a total of 630 million yuan (96 million U.S. dollars) to build.
The Erlitou ruins were discovered in 1959 and have been identified by archaeologists as one of the capital cities during the Xia Dynasty.
China's earliest palace complex, bronze ware workshop and road network were all found there, said Zhao Haitao from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) Erlitou archaeological team.
The museum will include technology such as 3D and virtual reality to reproduce ancient scenes, Zhao said.
The exhibits must be entertaining with impressive visual effects to capture the attention of young visitors, he added.
As one of the "Four Great Ancient Capitals of China," along with Xi'an, Beijing and Nanjing, Luoyang has ambitions to attract more local and international recognition.
The city was at its peak during Tang Dynasty (618-907), when China's only empress, Wu Zetian, moved the capital there from Chang'an, as Xi'an was then known, during her reign (690-705).
Most of Luoyang's ancient architecture has been destroyed by historical wars and the progress of modern construction.
The local government is investing billions trying to restore the grandeur of what is believed to have been world's most populous city during the Tang Dynasty.
The city government has allocated some 47 square kilometers of land in the city center, where cultural relics have been detected underground, for a plan to restore the architecture of the Sui (581-618) and Tang dynasties, said Li Ya, Party secretary of Luoyang.
A national-level cultural relics park, including a lavish reconstructed palace and pagoda built on the ancient foundations, opened to the public in 2015. The imperial garden known as Jiuzhouchi is being recreated in one corner of the park.
Luoyang has a grand plan to restore architecture along the ancient axis line, including ramparts, gates, bridges, and 103 residential complexes where renowned politicians and poets once lived.
"We will build the park step by step as the investment required is huge," said Li, adding that "President Xi Jinping told us to have pride in our culture and people need something tangible to reach consensus on."
The recreated Tang-style architecture acts as a "protective shed" in archeological terms, built above the original foundations to avoid damage to relics.
At the same time the buildings serve as tourist facilities, said Wang Ge, from the municipal cultural heritage bureau.
The park received 850,000 visitors last year and expects to see 1 million this year, according to Wang.
PROTECTION VERSUS DEVELOPMENT
Heritage protection is often in conflict with city development, especially as the relics area occupies a quarter of the city center. It is no easy job to maintain balance as Luoyang strives to become one of Henan's two economic engines amid rapid urbanization.
"City planning and construction are intertwined with cultural relic protection. If we can handle them well, it will be a win-win situation," said Li.
"But if we mess it up, the relics will either constrain development or they will be damaged," he said.
As early as the 1950s, when the central government planned to turn Luoyang into a major industrial base, the local government avoided building factories in the city area, instead setting up a brand new industrial district in the suburbs.
Currently, 42,000 residents live in the Sui and Tang cultural relics protection area.
"Some of them will be relocated and some will be allowed to stay. It depends on the threats posed to the relics," said Li.
Qian Binggen's family was one of the 800 households relocated in 2009 due to the reconstruction of Tian Tang or Heavenly Hall, where Empress Wu attended Buddhist rituals, and Ming Tang or Hall of Enlightenment, where she handled government affairs. The relocation project cost 1.35 billion yuan.
Since 1955, Qian, 82, had lived in a compact apartment provided by his employer, a machinery construction company. His family was relocated to a residential complex two kilometers away.
At the beginning, Qian was reluctant to move out, but now he accepts the changes.
The protection of cultural relics should also benefit local residents, said Du Jinpeng, a researcher with the CASS Institute of Archaeology.
Providing free entrance for locals or building an archaeological theme park can give something back to those made sacrifices for the protection of the relics, he said.
Song Gaoxiang, 53, a villager who has been working at the excavation site for some years, has high hopes for when the Erlitou Relic Museum opens to the public.
"I'm planning to open a restaurant nearby when the museum is completed," he said.