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The Terracotta Warriors. Xian
When I was fourteen I remember watching with mouth agog at the news reports of the discovery of the terracotta warriors in Xian, China. They were accidentally discovered by a group of farmers who were drilling a well for water. They came across some unusual pieces of pottery. The authorities heard about it and a delegation was sent to examine the pieces of pottery. It was quickly identified as pottery from around the time of the first Emperor and this was quickly relayed to more senior officials. Shortly followed a massive influx of archaeologists who started to dig and found the terracotta warriors who were supposed to be the guards of the tomb of the First Emperor of China Qin Shi Huang who was born around 259BC. He inherited the throne at the age of 13 years old and began building his own mausoleum which took 11 years to build.
Hearing that they had been discovered by rural farmers drilling a well for water near Xian I wrongly assumed Xian would be a little rural village. WRONG. Xian is infact a major city of over 8 million people and the actual site of the warriors is some distance from the city about an hours drive away. It was once the capital city of China and is quite historical in itself.
The mausoleum was a massive complex and he ordered that the tomb should be guarded by an army to deter grave robbers. In his mausoleum he would have been buried with lots of treasure and valuable items including pottery jewellery and weapons so that his existence in the after life would be as comfortable as it was on earth.
It appears that over the many years that it had been buried it had in fact been discovered by grave robbers who stole lots of valuable pieces they had also tried to destroy the terracotta statues by smashing them to bits and trying to set fire to them.
The terracotta warriors are housed in three massive hanger type buildings and less than a quarter of them have been unearthed so far. Estimates put the terracotta warriors of around 8000 statues plus 130 chariots and 520 horses. They have been painstakingly dug out of the earth covering them. Some of the pieces were broken so they have been put back together. What is absolutely amazing no two terracotta warriors are the same each individual warrior is different in some way either by the size of their eyes, the nose, mouth, moustache, uniform the way they are standing, the arms they are holding it is truly remarkable to see so many variations of the warriors. The body was made separately from the heads arms and legs which were then individually added and facial expressions added to ensure each one was unique.
Once the warrior was made he was placed in one of the pits according to the rank he was supposed to represent. Generals were taller than normal soldiers and would take pride of place at the front of each column. There followed chariots with three warriors riding it and being led by a footman, archers, infantrymen all lined up in front of each other in columns that were in long corridors that were lined with bricks to support the wooden roof which was covered in clay then covered in earth. There are signs of burning as the grave robbers tried to destroy evidence of there misdeeds. Each of the warriors held real weapons of which many had been stolen however those weapons that were found were incredibly well preserved and razor sharp. The lead arrow heads were said to have been impregnated with poison
Two priceless bronze chariots were also discovered and these were adorned with 1700 pieces of gold and silver on them. These are housed in a separate hall and are still completely intact fortunately not having been discovered by the grave robbers. There are 3400 separate parts to each of the chariots which indicates the kind of skilled workmanship that went into making each of them.
The terracotta warriors are a magnificent sight to see and the amount of workmanship that had taken place to build the tomb must have been a monumental task and taken ages. It was said that the workers who created the warriors were buried alive but there is no evidence of this also the people who finished off the burials had their tongues removed so they would not divulge the secret burial site to anyone but again there is no real evidence of this and may just be stories made up to make it more mystical and mysterious.
The grounds are very beautiful with areas to sit and relax in with ornamental ponds and trees dotted around. There are cafeterias and also gift shops to buy souvenirs of the warriors and other bits and pieces. There are some local hawkers who will try to sell you boxes of imitation warriors. Although there were many visitors when we went the place is so vast you do not feel crowded at all. You walk around the outside of the great halls looking into the pits and you are free to take photos.
It cost 90 Yuan to visit the museum which was equivalent to a pound for the visit. This was remarkable value considering the historical nature and the vastness of the find. I would heartily recommend a visit if you are in China as it is well worth it and a memory you will never forget.
Fantastic, Wonderful, Brilliant. Awesome, Amazing, Stunning, Fearsome. So many words which fail to describe their beauty and another historical wonder of our wonderful world.
The magnificent terracotta army individually made to protect the dead emperor.