The old walled city of Xi’an, China, is filled with historical buildings and a very authentic Muslim Quarter with bazaar and mosque. However, the most spectacular attraction is the Army of Terracotta Warriors
Xi’an, the capital of Shaanxi province, is a city with more than 8.5 million inhabitants located in central east China. It is one of the oldest cities in China with a history spanning more than 3,000 years.
Just 20 km east of the town lies one of China’s most amazing attractions. Welcome to the Army of Terracotta Warriors and Horses which relatively recently became one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of modern times.
Accidentally discovered by peasant farmers digging a water well in 1974, the “Terracotta Army” or the “Terracotta Warriors and Horses” is a large collection of terracotta (clay-based unglazed ceramic) sculptures depicting the armies of Qin Shi Huang Di.
On the death of his father, Yiren, in 246 BC, he took the throne at the tender age of 13 under the birth name of Ying Zheng. By 221 BC he had unified the entire civilised world as he knew it, declared himself as the Emperor of China, and took on the name of Qin Shi Huang Di, translated as “First Emperor of Qin”.
He accomplished quite a lot during his life. He invested in infrastructure and built massive fortifications, road networks that likely exceeded 6,500 km, and on the northern frontier he created a bulwark against the invaders.
“It is estimated that there are about 6,000 to 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses, and 150 cavalry horses, the majority of which are still buried in the pits”
Made of rammed earth, these fortifications became the earliest foundations of the Great Wall of China, most of which would be rebuilt in stone and brick during the 15th century AD.
The new Emperor also interlinked the states with canals, and he standardised the coins, weights, and measures.
Full of himself, shortly after taking to the throne he ordered more than 700,000 labourers to work on his tomb.
The Emperor was told he could live eternally by consuming magical herbs which were to be found on the Islands of the Immortals in the East China Sea. After several search parties failed to retrieve the herbs, the Emperor decided to lead the next search party himself. Sadly, instead of collecting the life-preserving magical herbs, the Emperor contracted a fatal illness.
Upon the death of Emperor Qin Shi Huang Di the land was in turmoil. As order broke down, rogue forces raided the pits where clay soldiers stood guard and plundered their real weapons.
Following the ransacking, fires were set which destroyed the support pillars so the ceilings crashed down and smashed the figures. Today there is still evidence of the destruction and char marks can be clearly seen on some of the remaining wooden columns.
While we are waiting for the Emperor’s tomb and many more pits to be excavated, there currently is so much to see that it takes a full day to appreciate the exhibits on display.
Interred for more than 2,150 years, an entire army of life-size terracotta soldiers and horses have been standing just a few metres underground. Since the first discovery by the farmers, archaeologists have located some 600 pits with complex underground vaults.
While much of the area still has to be excavated, what we can see today are three pits with some 1,900 terracotta soldiers and their entourage.
Though the statues appear largely grey today, patches of paint hint at once brightly coloured clothes which sadly have faded significantly over the years, in particular since exposure to the light after being unearthed.
The rows of clay soldiers are in trench-like underground corridors and in some of the corridors the clay horses are aligned four abreast and behind them are the wooden chariots.
Excavations have also revealed swords, arrow tips, and other weapons, mostly in pristine condition. An empty fourth excavated pit is likely part of the unfinished work.
One of the great mysteries remains about the contents of the Emperor’s own tomb which has not yet been excavated.
According to historians, the tomb should be filled with fine vessels, precious stones and other rarities. Some pits excavated around the Emperor’s tomb have revealed terracotta dancers, musicians, acrobats caught in mid-performance, delightfully realistic waterfowl crafted from bronze and serenaded by terracotta musicians.
In addition, an entire necropolis built for the Emperor has been found surrounding the Emperor’s tomb. It contains models of palaces, pavilions and offices and is filled with replicas of the area’s rivers and streams made with mercury flowing to the sea through hills and mountains of bronze. Pearls are said to represent the sun, moon, and stars.
The current museum at the excavation site covers an area of 16,300 m² and is divided into three sections. Pit 1 opened to visitors in 1979 and contains about 6,000 terracotta figures of soldiers and horses facing eastwards in a rectangular array, each one either armed with a spear, dagger or halberd.
This was the first exhibition to open to the public after the discovery of the pits in 1974. This is also currently the largest exhibition and the most impressive.
Pit 2 was found in 1976 and opened to the public in 1994. It contains rows of kneeling and standing archers, chariot war array, and mixed forces with infantry, chariots and troopers standing in a rectangular array.
Pit 3, the smallest, was also found in 1976 and opened to the public in 1989. It contains warriors and chariots and it is speculated that it was built to be the command post for the soldiers in other pits.