THE TERRACOTTA ARMY 兵马俑
I had arrived in Xi’an for just two nights. Xi’an is a walled city, and the gates are one of the first things that I see as it is quite prominent. They must be at least 12 metres tall and towers above me as I negotiate the traffic on my way to the hostel. It was a great start to the ancient capital of China. I find out later that the wall runs about 13 kilometres around the city. While checking in, I also book for a day trip to the Terracotta warriors. With only one full day in this city, I book a tour for the next day, which includes transport, a tour of the warriors and lunch. It was about $45 (AUD).
The Walled city of Xi'an
The next day we meet at 7 am, bright and early with about 30 other people we are herded into two mini buses for our ride to the Terracotta army site. The first part of the tour is rather anti-climactic as we are taken to a hill. That’s right, just a hill and we are told that is where Emperor Qin’s mausoleum is located. The emperor that commissioned the 8000 strong life sized army. It was about one and a half kilometres from the entrance and main pits and we were taken there by shuttle buses. One contemplates if there are more warriors to be found in the ground between the tomb and the discovered pits. After fifteen minutes of looking at a mound of raised earth we are taken back to look at what we had travelled so far to see some terracotta.
Discovered only in 1974, the terracotta warrior army consists of three main pits. Each pit contains the sculptures of warriors, archers, chariots or horses. They mostly stand where they were found, with the earth removed from around them. We first enter the area surrounding pit two. It is still being excavated and much of the pottery is broken and lies in pieces. We are given a five minute talk by our tour guide about the history of the place and then left to walk around. I think the tour is saving the best for last.
I am still impressed and in awe that I am lucky enough to view the terracotta warriors, however this pit was my least favourite of the three because it is still being excavated and because many of the great pieces have been broken. It does have some sculptures behind glass and gives an opportunity to get up close and study the detail of the statues. They say each warrior statue has different facial features and unique in its own way. I can understand why some call it the eighth wonder of the world.
Pit two – Still being excavated
We then are shown to pit three. Because of its proximity and size it is regarded as the command centre of pit one and two. At roughly 28 metres square, it is smaller than the other two and 68 pottery figures, one chariot and 34 chariots have been unearthed here. It is truly amazing at what I am looking at. These sculptures have stood the test of time. They were buried before Christ was born and hard to believe that so many have survived, being discovered by a farmer digging a well.
Pit three – The command centre
Pit one is the main pit and is the one you see the most in all the pictures or TV shows about the terracotta warriors. A massive structure, in an airplane hangar type of building to protect it from the elements. It is 260 metres long and 62 metres wide. Visitors may walk around the rectangular pit, but are not allowed down into it. So observation is from a few metres above.
Pit one is the main one with the most warriors
The figures are all a brown terracotta colour, but this wasn’t always the case. They were painted some fantastic colours before being buried; however the paint fades and peels very quickly after coming into contact with the dry air of Xi’an. Pit one is a subterranean earth and wood structure. Eleven corridors, divided by ten earth rammed partition walls. The earth walls sustained a wood roof that was made of huge and strong rafters. The roof was covered with layers of fibre mats on which fine soil filled placed over the top. At the moment over 2000 pottery warriors and horses have been unearthed, however there is expected to be about 6000 warriors in this pit, so lots more to be uncovered.
There was a final part to the museum and that was a movie. We came in to the theatre where you stand and watch the screens after it had started. Basically it told the story of the Emperor and how the Terracotta Army came to be made and found. It was interesting, but coming in part way through we missed a fair bit.
I am used to solo travel. Most trips I take by myself as I enjoy the freedom of being able to spend more time where I like rather than follow the a tour group around. China was a first for me in that I stayed in a few hostels. I still had my own room, but enjoyed the sense of meeting new people, which you don’t find with a hotel. All of the people on this tour were from my hostel or the one across the road and it was an interesting dynamic. We all piled onto the buses and everyone is a little shy and reserved to begin with, not really interacting, or just talking to the people they had come with.
The tour guide got us all to tell us a bit about ourselves and where we were from whilst on the bus. This was great to get us to relax and get to know each other. We started talking a bit more, first with the people close to us on the bus, and then as the day went, we all started to have fun with each other and chat more. It was a great day to not only see the marvel of the army but also to forge some friendships. By the last pit, we were all joking and taking pictures of each other. Finally when we had finished with the Museum we all had lunch together as it was provided. It was a good opportunity to have a beer and some food and reflect on the day and what we had seen. A very jovial atmosphere.
While it is possible to travel to the museum by yourself and gain entry, I would recommend that you take a tour. It takes a lot of the work out of the day as you are driven around. Not only did I enjoy my day with the group, but also met some people from the hostel who otherwise would not have. I only wish I had organised more time in Xi’an, because early the next day I would be back on the bullet train to Beijing.
An interesting sculpture between the pits