Terracotta Warriors of China

Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor - Xi'an

Former French president Jacques Chirac once said: "One can't claim to have visited China unless one has seen these Terracotta Warriors.

Considered to be of the most significant archeological excavations of the 20th century – the Terracotta Warriors and Horses were discovered during the 1970’s when local peasants were drilling for water and happened to stumble across a subterranean life-size army of thousands – built to protect Emperor Qin Shi Huang during the afterlife.

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The construction of the terracotta warriors is interesting and, considering they're over 2,000 years old, they are incredibly advanced in terms of craftsmanship. Studies have revealed that they weigh between 242 and 660 pounds which would indicate that they were created in temperatures between 950 and 1,050 degrees centigrade – which would account for their weight. The names of the craftsmen who created the figures are inscribed on each warrior's robe, leg or armour.

The whole project is thought to have taken 36 years to complete and involved about 16,000 artisans from several provinces. Like the Tsars of Russia, the Chinese Emperor sacrificed thousands of lives to create visionary projects that have subsequently provided us with some of the most fascinating insights into ancient China.

These include the Great Wall of China, the now famous city-size mausoleum guarded by a life-size Terracotta Army, and a massive national road system. Since the State Council authorised the openings an on site museum in 1975, Xian has firmly established itself as a one of the world's leading archeological attractions, becoming something of a landmark stop on the curious traveller's map.

The Vaults

According to the historian Sima Quinn (145 BC-90 BC) construction of this mausoleum began in 246 BC and involved 16,000 workers. The site was listed by UNESCO in 1987 as one of the world cultural heritages, and is considered to be the eighth wonder of the world. The museum consists of three vaults, with each of the life-size figures differing in dimension and facial expression. No. 1 Pit is the largest, first opened to the public on China's National Day, 1979. 

There are columns of soldiers at the front, followed by war chariots at the back. No. 2 Pit, found in 1976, is 20 meters northeast of No. 1 Pit. It contained over a thousand warriors and 90 chariots of wood and was opened to the public in 1994.Archeologists came upon No. 3 Pit also in 1976, 25 meters northwest of No. 1 Pit. It looked like to be the command center of the armed forces. It went on display in 1989, with 68 warriors, a war chariot and four horses. Altogether over 7,000 terracotta soldiers, horses, chariots, and even weapons have been unearthed from these pits. Most of them have been restored but some suffer from side effects from exposure to the several million visitors to the site.

The First Emperor

Qin Shi Huang – the first Emperor of Qin Dynasty, named Ying Zheng, was born at the period of Warring States. The first person to unify China has been described as a ‘chronic overachiever’.

Upon conquering over six major kingdoms, standardising measurements, currency and government, he commissioned the building of a remarkable accumulation of life-sized clay figures of soldiers to be buried with him – the idea was that his terracotta army would give him the power in the spirit world that he already enjoyed on earth, presumably the army was necessary for conquering in the afterlife.

The Emperor took criticism badly and saw that almost all written texts were burnt and was allegedly not beyond burying scholarly critics alive. 

Getting there

The museum is easily reached by public bus from opposite the Xian train station. The 306 goes via Huaqing Springs. Alternatively, green 'Terracotta' minibuses can be taken from the same place, which are quicker but a little more expensive.

Taxis are available, but be forewarned there is no set meter rate in place so you might end up paying more than you wished to.

The actual army is a good 15-minute walk from the drop-off point. Once there, English-speaking tour guides can be hired from outside, these will walk and talk you round the site for a price. 

Terracotta Warriors and Horses

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