Nancy & Tony's Little Break travel blog

Pit 1 (still under excavation)

Pit 1 (still under excavation)

Main Pit-completed

Main Pit-completed

Warriors that are still being put together

Army of Terracotta Warriors

Army of Terracotta Warriors

Army of Terracotta Warriors

Army of Terracotta Warriors

Army of Terracotta Warriors

Army of Terracotta Warriors

Army of Terracotta Warriors

Warriors for sale(Pick me!)

View from top of tomb(Very smoggy)

Performance at tomb

Performance at tomb

Huaqing pool

Huaqing pool

Live models in shop window - Xi'an high street

Great Mosque

Great Mosque

Great Mosque

Great Mosque

Great Mosque

Great Mosque

Forest of steles museum

Forest of steles museum


Our visit to the see the Terracotta Army has been our best day yet in China. I guess not too surprising considering how world famous they are, but we were astounded by all the incredible facts and figures surrounding the whole discovery, and what could still be found in the future. And our enjoyment was not even nullified by an incredibly stinking hot day. Where is all this rain they keep saying China is having?! And thankfully, most of what we saw today was inside, under cover to protect the finds. Our enjoyment was also increased immensely by having our first english language guide in China - with our day tour group.

Before starting on the army, we have discovered yet another smog filled massive chinese city. Xi'an has a population of over 8 million. Incredible. And once again we could not see the sun, including all the way to see the terracotta army, 45kms away!

The terracotta army is amazing, as expected, although there are slightly smaller numbers of warriors out in the open than we thought. But the story behind the army, and of the tomb they are guarding - of the 'first' chinese emperor Qin Shi Huang who died 2,200 years ago, and of the discovery itself is a wonder.... Here is a brief summary of some of that story:

The terracotta army was discovered by peasant farmers in 1974 digging a well, several of whom ran off thinking they had found ghosts under ground. The terracotta warriors all have individual features, and look exactly like they are about to spring to life and start marching towards you - with generals, middle officers, foot soldiers, horsemen, horses (wooden chariots have disappeared)and archers all in battle formation. There are over 7,000 warriors, but there could be many more guarding the tomb. There could also be many more armies yet undiscovered, guarding other tombs. Xi'an was the capital of China, off and on, for over 1,000 years, and some minor armies have been discovered guarding other tombs.

This information, most of you probably know a bit about, but there is much much more. They only have just over 1,000 full size warriors standing in the open in the main pit. It has taken 32 years to restore these. At this rate, it will take another 145 years just to complete the main pit with 6,000 warriors! They are keeping most of the army still buried under the original protective wooden beams (now crumpled by time), and lots of earth, because when they uncovered the ones so far, it took just three days for their colour to disappear!

40,000 bronze weapons have been unearthed - originally held by the warriors themselves. Many of these weapons had been plated with a chrome-saline oxide coating by the original maker. This has kept them shiny as new, and as sharp as when they were made! Chrome plating technologies were invented by the Germans and Americans in the 1930s and 1940s, but then this discovery in 1974 showed the chinese used it 2,200 years before!

The army, itself, is one very small part of what is one of the most astonishing tombs of all time - Qin Shi Huang. We climbed the hill of the tomb which is covered in park and trees, and is now just over 50m high. It is estimated that it was originally over 100m high but soil erosion at the base has bought it down to its current height. Most incredible is the riches that are hidden within the hill, and the defence mechanisms still in place preventing anyone from exposing it all to the world. Accounts and x-rays show beneath the hill, palaces filled with precious stones and artifacts, and many many more minor tombs of people who were sacrificed by the emperors successor in honour of his father. These sacrifices included not only artisans and slaves who worked on the tomb, but also leading aristocrats and even some of the successors siblings! Many of the former sacrifices were buried in the tomb to help keep its secrets. They also compacted and covered the tomb palace with earth and planted trees to also keep its secrets. The idea being that only the afterlife could see the emperor's tomb, his palace and his army. But best of all - the defences are extreme. It is written historically that there is a river of mercury flowing through the tomb. And sure enough, tests show that there is mercury contamination up to 1.2kms from the tomb, and that there are incredibly poisonous levels around the central tomb. wow!! So one day, when they beat that trap, who knows what wonders they will discover to go with the army. The archaelogists are in fact making some ground not too far from the tomb. In 1980, they discovered two exquisite half-size bronze, emperor carrying, chariots each complete with driver and four horses. They were broken to pieces inside wooden coffins, but have been lovingly restored and are on show in the Qinyong Museum, inside the army complex.

We were also lucky enough to see a dance and acrobatic show at the tomb with costumes from the time of the great emperor - see the photos.

After all this, the ancient Huaqing hotspring pools and temple complex that we visited on the way back to Xi'an was of course a bit boring, but had some history. It was used as a retreat by emperors and their concubines during the Tang Dynasty (up to 900 AD) while sitting under the shadow of Li Shan mountain. And much more recently, by Chiang Kai Shek in 1936, when the communists nearly killed him because he refused to align with them against the invading Japanese army. He got away to Chongqing.

On our 2nd day in Xi'an, we finally got to rest for a morning, and then ventured out into the smog filled streets (even on a Sunday!) and explored the city within the old city walls. The Ming built city walls (14kms around) themselves are being restored like everything else - in time for the olympics. And this includes the rather large bell and drum towers which are in the direct centre of town. The bell tower was used to inform people of the sunrise, and the drum tower for sunset. Not sure why they needed it - maybe this town has always had smog!

Having a lot of 'emperor' history to this place, there is a fair bit to see, but we focused on two things.

We went to the very fascinating Forest of Steles Museum, which looked and felt like what it had been previously - a Confucius Temple. In fact, it reminded us very much of the Temple of Literature in Hanoi, and that had a similar history. It has a fine museum with pieces taken from the many royal tombs in the countryside, but most interesting is that it holds the heaviest collection of books in the world. Because it holds a very extensive collection of ancient chinese books (many of confucius philsophies) and all of them are written in calligraphy on massive stone slabs! Hence the name of the museum. It literally is a forest of steles, which look like something Obelix would pick up in his spare time. The slabs date as far back as the Han Dynasty 2,000 years ago, and go right through to the most recent Qing Dynasty.

Then we went to the muslim quarter of Xi'an, through lots of little alleyways, packed with shops. Xi'an has quite a large Hui - chinese muslim community. The alleyways opened up on to a large and beautiful mosque - one of the largest in China. This actually looked like many of the courtyards of pagodas that we have been to, except for all the little old chinese men wandering around in their white skull caps! It was good to see some muslim culture again, five months since we were in Zanzibar.

The extreme heat we have been having was finally broken by heavy rain that evening! Tomorrow, we fly to Beijing. Had enough of those buses and the trains are all booked out as usual!

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