Sunday, November 14, 2010

Terracotta Warriors

Located in a farming area outside the city of Xi'an is an army of over 8,000 strong standing ready for duty. The Terracotta Army/Warriors were the creation of Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of a unified China. He had the army, complete with all ranks and support personnel and equipment, built to serve him in the next life.

You get to the warriors via a public bus (Cost? Less than $1) that departs from the Xi'an train station. The trip takes about an hour...way cheaper and faster than one of those hotel-organized tours and no stops at jade factories along the way. Score!!!

When I researched the warriors before the visit, I found that people recommended to see the pits in "reverse" order (visit pit #3 first, #2 second, then #1 last) so that's how I did it. First was a visit to the museum, which explains how the army was built and where you can see various artifacts from the site. Here's a very detailed set of horses and chariot with driver found in one of the pits (it's behind glass so there are reflections on the photo):

Next up is Pit #3. This smaller site was the first to be built when the army was started around 210 B.C. but was the most recently discovered. There are very few figures here and what was found here was mostly damaged/destroyed so I did't spend too much time in this building. Here's a view of one of the pits from this building where you can see some of the preserved figures and some good horses:

Next up is Pit #2. This pit was built after Pit #3 (above) and found second out of the three. Pit #2 is much bigger than the first and it's here where you really start to understand how the "storage buildings" were built to house the army. The buildings were rammed earth walls with wood, cloth, and terracotta roofs. Hallways were left open between the walls where the soldiers and other equipment were positioned in military formation. It was then all covered over with soil to hide the site. From what I could tell, it was the eventual collapse of these roofs that caused a lot of the damage to the army. This is a photo that shows Pit #2:

Inside the Pit #2 building is one of the famous terracotta soldiers on display in a glass case. This archer can be viewed very close up, which allows you to see a great deal of the detail work.

When the emperor had his army built, he ordered that each of the soldiers be unique. They were built to be different sizes, to be of different ranks, all the way down to different hair styles and facial features. It's pretty impressive to think of how much time and effort was invested to build so many different figures. Here's a close-up of the archer's head where you can see the detail of the hair:

When I was done seeing the museum, Pit #3, and Pit #2, I honestly was worried that maybe all the extra effort to get to Xi'an and go to see the warriors might not be that cool after all. The museum is good and the two buildings are interesting but I guess my expectations were too high. Well...what I saw next in Pit #1 blew all that away:

The place is HUGE, like sports-arena huge, and there's an army inside it! Wow! Very cool! Doing the site in reverse order is definitely the ticket because seeing Pit #2 and Pit #3 after Pit #1 would be anticlimactic.

Pit #1, the largest of the three, was found in 1974 by a farmer that was digging a well. In the photo below, you can see the site where the well was marked by a white sign just right of center towards the top (the smaller sign in the top-right-hand corner is indicating the oldest brick wall found in China).

Seeing this many soldiers in person would be impressive. Seeing this many unique statues of soldiers is super impressive. Here's another photo showing "just" 100 or so of Qin's 8,000 warriors:

Pit #1 is still being actively unearthed. You can see one of the dig areas below. Note the pieces of warriors in the lower part of the photo.

The archeologists have a workshop towards the back of the building where they are reassembling broken warriors as well as, I'm guessing, doing things like data collection and other research. It's great to be able to visit an active dig site and watch the folks doing their day-to-day work.

If you need to know, yes, a trip to Xi'an to see the Terracotta Warriors is worth it, especially if you're already going to be in China. The city of Xi'an serves as a great place to stay with cheap hotel rooms (<$20/night) and great food. It's no wonder why the emperor chose to base his army here...


  1. Oooo, I've seen some of them a couple of years ago at Bowers Museum in LA. Pretty cool!

  2. It was very cool especially because the place is so big and there are so many to see.


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