The Terracotta Army of Xian

It remains one of the most amazing things that I have ever seen. Going by several names, such as the Terracotta Army and the Entombed Warriors, whatever you want to call them, they are incredibly impressive.

First discovered in 1974 in a suburb of the city of Xian, this Terracotta Army is now revered as being one of the most important archaeological sites in the world.

Xian was China’s capital for about 13 centuries, and is one of the Four Great Ancient Capitals of China, having been a cultural and political centre of China since the 11th century BC.

The Terracotta Army is in place thanks to Emperor Qin Shi Huang-ti, who is credited with centralising China by pacifying the Five Warring States around about 200BC.  The army was constructed to protect Emperor Qin as he entered the afterlife. The whole complex is dauntingly impressive.

The army is comprised of over 8,000 warriors, each of which is slightly larger than life size, and is entirely different to other warriors.  With the warriors are an estimated 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses, the majority of which are still buried in the pits.

Pit one is 230 metres long and contains the main army.  It is covered by a gigantic roof, and is very reminiscent of a huge aircraft hangar.  I first saw this pit in 1988 when I was leading a tour group through China.  Then it was a very different place to the modern, sophisticated China we have today.  Our plane had been delayed for one and a half days in Guilin – this was a time when civil aviation on China was practically non-existent, and airport radar systems were not all that good, so during bad weather they would just ground planes.      

There was a danger of us missing the Terracotta Warriors as we had an early connection out of Xian the next day, so we took a chance and got out there at about nine o’clock at night, long after closing time.  By bribing the guards with American cigarettes we were able to sneak in to Pit 1, and we had it all to ourselves.  They turned on just a few lights, and it was very cold but eerily majestic to see that marvellous army in the half light.  Although I have been back many times since, the memory of that first visit has remained with me, and I couldn’t have wished for a better first impression.

A couple of other pits are now on display, one of which is a command post containing the generals that would have directed the army.

The complex also contains a very interesting museum, where you can get up close to several of the warriors to scrutinise them closely.  The detail in each warrior is simply amazing, and is even accurate down to the wear and tear on each warrior’s sandals.

As far as I am concerned any trip to China should include a visit to the Terracotta Warriors.  Not just because they make for an impressive sight, but more because they tell you something about the majesty of ancient China and are a great testament to the brilliance of Chinese culture, philosophy and artistic skill

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