Shaanxi, China Xi'an 2002.07.11 - 07.14

Terracotta Warriors

The Shaanxi Provincial capital city of Xi'an has one historical world-class site: the Army of Terracotta Warriors. Discovered in 1974 by peasants digging a well, excavation of the warriors resulted in the discovery of 3 major sites (to date) comprising the Tomb of Qin Shihuang, the largest tomb in the world.

About 6000 2000-year old terracotta warriors and horses have been unearthed and (mostly) reconstructed to date. Excavation work is expected to continue for decades because of the sheer enormity of the sites. Viewing platforms circle the enclosed excavation sites, and visitors can marvel at the work completed thus far. Site 1 is the largest. To give a perspective of the size, 3 football fields could fit within the enclosure. Walking from completed sections to areas where work is in progress, the scope of reconstruction is daunting. Archeologists infer that 2000 years ago, just after completion of this gigantic tomb, pillagers broke in, stole the contained military weapons (spears, axes, bows), and set fire to the wooden beams supporting the ceiling. Today, archeologists are left with the buried remains of shattered terracotta. Uncovering each piece with a fine brush is as daunting as trying to piece together the millions of fragments. No wonder this excavation is expected to last many more decades.

Within this museum / excavation site is a Circle Vision documentary with a realistic re-enactment of the history of the Army of Terracotta Warriors. As Circle Vision implies, the film is a 360° visual. The quality of film is as impressive as seeing the Army of Terracotta Warriors themselves. Showings are both in English and Chinese.

Admission is ¥65. No ISIC student-card discounts are given.

Trains in and out of Xi'an from the major hubs of Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, and Lanzhou fill early. Purchase tickets several days in advance. We learned this the hard way. In the summer high-tourist months, hard-sleeper train tickets out of Xi'an are scarce. On July 12, we tried to purchase a sleeping berth on any train from Xi'an to Lanzhou. The next available was on July 19. Furthermore, the earliest reserved hard-seat we could buy was for July 14 on an overnight 13-hour train!

From the parking lot at the eastern end of Xi'an Train Station, air-conditioned green bus 306 departs regularly for the 50 km distant Terracotta Warriors (¥5) and also passes Huaqing Chi on the way. Don't be fooled by the minibus operators who hang a "306" sign on their windshield. Although the fare is the same, they depart only after the entire bus fills. You could be waiting for hours since almost everyone boards the green city buses.

Hotels and tour operators also offer combined bus transportation to the Terracotta Warriors and the 30 km distant Huaqing Chi hot springs for about ¥35, but trust us, you won't want to be stuck in a group at the Terracotta Warriors excavation sites.

Decades of excavation of the Tomb of Qin Shihuang have uncovered fragments of 6000 Terracotta Warriors. Archeologists are patiently piecing them together. Excavation is expected to continue for many more decades.
The magnitude of the excavation activity is evident in one glance. This photo is the first few rows of a 210 x 60 meter area called Site 1. Viewing platforms give visitors excellent topical views of the excavation sites.

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