Adventures, Races, Kit and Life
It is amazing that 1,000’s of life-size, incredibly detailed terracotta warriors, skilfully forged and painted by as many as 70,000 craftsmen and painstakingly positioned, poised for battle over acres and acres of land were simply forgotten for over 2000 years! It is also amazing that they were only discovered because a small group of farmers, tried to dig a new well in 1974 and sunk a trusty pick through a terracotta head!
You can actually even meet one of the farmers, an old looking, well weathered chap, if you buy the official terracotta warrior’s photo book at RMB180, which he will then gladly sign! I am sure many of the 30,000 visitors per day, do.
Despite having known about this archaeological treasure and the untouched football stadium sized Emperor Qin’s mausoleum nearby, for nearly 40 years, only a tiny proportion of the secrets thought to be still hidden in the surrounding fertile planes have been uncovered and restored back to life. Unsurprisingly, far more progress has been made in the rise of commercial buildings, selling terracotta warriors, fake jade and other cheap tat to gullible tourists.
Our Guide (“Speedy”, as she tried to take us around the tour so fast) mentioned that the area is a contender for the prestigious position of “8th Wonder of the World”. Possibly it could be considered if they had exposed more than a mere 5 % of the area. Maybe, in a 100 years time it will have the “Wow” factor associated with the extent of what actually exists under the ground but not yet. On the positive, it may provide a reason to go back in 50 years time…..
Admittedly Pit One is actually very impressive. The huge well-constructed 230 metre warehouse-style building exaggerates the scale of what has been excavated and is visible. What is visible certainly does have a Wow factor and is both mentally stimulating and even exciting. It is definitely helped by the incredible visual Hollywood memories created by “The Mummy” and thoughts of Jet Li playing Emperor Qin, coming back to life and causing all sorts of trouble… !
Regimented row after row of warriors are lined up, poised ready to march into battle. Thousands that you can see and many more thousands that you know are there waiting to emerge from the earth…. You can almost imagine the noise as they march out ( helped by Hollywood again ).
Each warrior is a work of art ! They are incredibly detailed and all have unique facial features. Every warrior sports a fashionable moustache ( not so common in China these days ) and long warrior hair. Their height apparently ranges up to 2 meters ( the “Yau Ming’s” basket ball potential of the past ). They are regimentally lined up, the different ranks and military categories being visible. The building provides good natural light which adds to the character of the parade in front of you. Arrive early, to avoid the hundreds of tourists elbow jostling for prime photo position and you should get some great shots.
Emperor Qin Shi Huang was a busy man. In his 50 years of life he created both the Great Wall of China and The Terracotta Warriors and also managed to finally unify all of China. Not bad going at all. The wall was constructed to fend off the pesky Mongolian invaders and the Terracotta Army to march with him in the after life. A huge believer in the afterlife, he picked the foothills of the Li Mountains (which steeply rise out of the smog) because of their high quality pink and black jade, thought to have the powers of rejuvenation and the ability to lengthen life. There is possibly some truth in this as 50 in those days was an achievement.
The smaller Pit 2, is much deeper and shows a few very well restored examples of the warriors, apparently guarding the generals meeting rooms. Greeting you is and a well displayed set of 4 horses and poised chariot rider. The wooden chariot has since rotted but there is a reconstruction in one of the other buildings. You get a good insight into how the soldiers were all originally painted in their actual regimental colours and when magnified by 6,000, how incredible the army would have looked. Unfortunately the paint quickly dries and will peel off, lost forever, within 3 minutes if exposed to today’s dry air. In this Pit you can also get a perfect cheesy souvenir photo with some warrior replicas. We did !
Pit 3 has rather a lot to be done as excavation has hardly even started. It provides the opportunity to see how the warriors were discovered during the excavations, looking like toy soldiers that have been hurled across the floor, broken, crushed and shattered. You also get an appreciation of all the hard work that goes in to the restoration that brings them back to life, for us photo happy tourists to snap and appreciate. The highlight of this Pit is the immaculately restored warriors in the display cabinets which allow you to get up close and really appreciate the phenomenal detail that the craftsmen created in their construction. There is a kneeling archer, gazing pensively at the horizon, a well robed general who is large and powerful in stature, a horse handler with his well groomed, trusty steed and a junior archer ( who looks rather like Legolass from “Lord of the Rings”) .
You can also view a range of the weapons that each warrior would have been originally armed with. Once more many have rotted due to their wooden construction but apparently the steel was in incredible condition and 2000 years before the rest of the world, Emperor Ming had developed an early method of rust proofing using a thin covering of “chromium oxide” to keep the edges razor sharp, eternally ready for battles in the afterlife.
The army is just one of the Shaanxi sights around the smoggy, grey and rapidly expanding (up and out) city of Xian. The Xian City walls have been well restored to a very high standard, and seem to define a line between the new modern grey monstrosities and the more traditional older architecture, protected within. The bell and drum tower were worth a quick visit, although still somewhat lost amoungst the modern Chinese shopping malls. The hustling and bustling Muslim Quarter crammed with local tourists all actively hunting for a cheap souvenir and good snack, oozed with energy and excitement, and assuming you can actually seek it out, the Muslim Mosque felt like a relaxing oasis of peace.
The “Famous Big Wild Goose Pagoda” was a little disappointing, especially on arrival at the top, where you cannot get out onto a balcony or even to a decent window to be rewarded by the panoramic view of the surroundings (which admittedly are hidden by smog anyway). There is much more to see at the bottom and the surrounding gardens display a lot of well planned, thoughtful and tasteful investment, sharing insights into the local history and culture.
We opted to stay at the novel “Terracotta Warriors Apartments” which were cute, with several life size warriors in every room, and even Terracotta Warrior costumes to try on for size, and also perfectly located for Xian exploration. It was ideal for a short, sharp visit to Xian.