An army of over 8,000 soldiers, 500 horses, 100 chariots, and millions of tourists annually. This is what China’s first great emperor, Qin Shi Huang, who also began construction of China’s Great Wall, needed with him as he journeyed to the afterlife.
The so called Terra Cotta Army was commissioned around 200 BCE. Each member of the army has a different, unique face and is made with solid legs to carry a hollow, terracotta body. The heads were actually attached later as the bodies needed a vent in order to allow hot air to escape while being hardened in the oven. The army consists of foot soldiers, archers, calvary men and generals all over 6 feet tall. The construction of the army was likely one of the first uses of the assembly line, despite what Ford might try to tell you.
The army had been forgotten by history until 1974 when a local farmer happened upon a large head while trying to dig a well. This farmer now sits about 100 meters from the site of his failed well with an autograph pen in his hand and in front of a ‘photos prohibited’ sign. The archaeological site itself is huge and features three different pits all filled with various soldiers in varying army formations. The vanguard is always in front and on all sides has soldiers facing ‘out’ in order to protect the group.
The most interesting part, outside of the size and scale of this ancient undertaking, is the current undertaking. As the site was being excavated, archaeologists found that the beautifully painted statues they were uncovering, lost their beautiful paint in as little as 30 minutes. Looking at the scale of the army it is easy to see just how much paint has been lost, but the vast majority has yet to be excavated for that very reason. The pits that house the excavated soldiers are mostly still unexcavated….and there are as many as 600 sites in the surrounding hills that have not even met a shovel yet.
IF YOU GO: There is a city bus (#306) that runs regular service from the Xi’an train station to the Terracotta Army. It is cheap and if you choose to book a tour you will be limited in the amount of time you can spend there as the tour promises to take you to additional, smaller and less significant sites as well. We signed on for the services of a guide, Jason, at the entrance of the site for 100 yuan and found this extremely worthwhile. Visit the gigantic pit #1 last so that you aren’t disappointed with the other pits. We stayed at the 7 Sages hostel in town which represented excellent value even if the staff was filled with bad advice.