The main reason for our trek inland to Xi’an was to see the famous terracotta warriors. Discovered (so the story goes) by a group of farmers in the 70s, the around 7000 life size terracotta sculptures were buried with emperor Qin Shi Huang around 210 b.c. so that they could protect him in the afterlife. Ancient documents suggest that this was a compromise as he originally wanted to take his actual army with him!
Each warrior has different facial features, and there are all sorts of different ranks and types of soldier – infantrymen, cavalrymen, archers, charioteers with their horses. Originally they were all painted and must have been an incredible sight. The paint however dissolves on contact with air, which is one reason only a few thousand have been uncovered – UK and German teams have been collaborating with Chinese scientists trying to come up with a way of preserving the paint.
Only one of the thousands was found a hundred percent intact – the vast majority were found more or less broken up, and a team or archaeologists works round the clock digging up and piecing together fragments. So what you see is restored/reconstructed figures, which in no way detracts from how impressive the terracotta army is, and photos cannot portray just how huge the site is, and how eerie it is to be facing thousands of these figures.
Whether or not it did the emperor any good in the afterlife, it has certainly contributed to the economy of the province and indeed the country, being one of the main tourist sites in China. Millions of tourists visit each year, and it felt like most went on the same day as us.
Knowing that it would get crowded and hot, we got up at 6.30, and were at the bus station for the first bus at 7.30, which got us there just as the gates opened at 08.30. Nonetheless, not one of the following photos were taken without recourse to elbows and firmly standing my ground amongst the crowds of mainly Chinese tourists.
There are three pits, the first is the most impressive and mainly populated with infantrymen, who have been placed in rows as they were back in old Qin Shi’s day. There is another pit mainly of archers and chariots, and then another where they have left the pieces much as they are uncovered, to show the state they are found in before the painstaking work of piecing them together.
Lauren is still learning that its OK to barge and push if others are doing so, but she is getting better – I saw her getting frustrated by being constantly elbowed out of the way and start to stand up for herself more. By 11 though we had seen enough and had enough of the crowds. The warriors are truly impressive, and worth seeing as while you can read about them, its hard to wrap your head round these being over 2000 years old, and on such a scale. It was also interesting to see some of the weapons, which had been plated with chrome, a technique not ‘discovered’ in Europe until the 1950’s.
We rewarded ourselves for an efficient and well planned visit, getting out as the tour guides (often numbering close to 100 people) streamed in, and took refuge in the air-conditioning of a café before heading back to Xi’an, for an afternoon of board games, rehydrating and nursing our bruises.