Terracotta Warriors

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Everyone goes to Xi’an for the Terracotta Warriors. It is an amazing place, built by an even more extraordinary man.

Qin Shi Huang (259 – 210BC) became King of Qin in 246BC at a time when the area was in turmoil. An autocratic tyrant he effectively unified the warring factions and in 221BC became first Emperor of China, introducing social and economic reforms and starting the building of the first Great Wall. He built an enormous palace for his afterlife. 700,000 workers were involved in the construction of an enormous complex of buildings (and probably rivers of mercury) with an army of 8,000 clay soldiers and nearly 700 clay horses. Less than five years after his death the site was looted, statues broken and destroyed by fire. The Terracotta Army was not rediscovered until 1974. Three pits have been excavated. Over the years archaeologists have gradually reassembled about 1000 warriors and replaced them in battle formation in the main pit.

Every figure differs in facial features, expressions, clothing, hairstyle, gesture. There are infantry, archers, cavalry, chariot drivers, officers and generals positioned in strict accordance with ancient directives on art of war. The figures were originally painted but the colours have faded and only slight traces can still be seen. Many figures held real weapons – bronze swords, longbows, arrowheads, spears, dagger-axes and other long-shaft weapons.

We arranged to be picked up from the hotel at 8am, which meant there was little traffic on the roads and we arrived soon after opening time. The coach tours hadn’t arrived and there were few tourists around.

We started off with Pit 1, a huge barn of a place with an elevated walkway looking down on the reconstructed soldiers and their horses. The columns of marching soldiers were separated by rows of rammed earth which supported the roof. The indentations of the rafters can still be seen. The floor was originally paved with bricks.

Towards the back we could see the damaged warriors jumbled up as they were found. At the rear is the area where warriors are being reassembled. Some are complete waiting to be placed. Others are still waiting for bits to be found.

Pit 2 was smaller and is more or less left as it was found. Pit 3 is smaller and was thought to be the army HQ as it is mainly high ranking officers standing on the brick floor. Many are headless.

There are two reconstructed chariots, which are displayed in a small dark room making it difficult to see and take photographs. By the time we reached here it was very busy making it even more difficult to see the chariots. The chariots are half size and made of bronze, decorated with gold and silver ornaments. They are pulled by four horses. One was intended for the emperor. The second is a battle chariot and is smaller and lighter.

There is a good museum display gallery containing examples of the different warriors in glass cases, allowing for close up views.

There is a film, which we saw last. It was big on presentation but low on content. We would give this a miss another time.

There is a large and good shop selling terracotta figurines varying in size from a few centimetres to full size. These apparently can be dispatched anywhere in the world. One of the farmers who discovered the site was sitting in a corner signing copies of the book of its discovery.

Outside touts are selling books of 10 postcards for 10CYN. These are good pictures and well worth buying.

This is a jaw dropping place – and more than lives up to all the hype.

Our pictures of the pits are here

Our pictures of soldiers in the Museum are here.  

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