The Incredible Army

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March 26th 2018
Published: July 30th 2021
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We arrive early morning in Xi'an after having travelled from Shanghai on an overnight sleeper train. Once we find our hotel to check-in and freshen up, our tour guide takes us for a walk into the the centre of Xi'an via a stop-off for a quick breakfast and coffee.

Xi'an is a very large city in China and famous for it's Terracotta Warriors as well as its ancient city wall. As we get close to the centre we can immediately spot the Xi'an Drummer Tower and Bell Tower of Xi'an. These two towers are symbols of the city; erected in 1380 at the time of the Ming dynasty. The Xi'an Drum Tower got its name from having drums inside and you can see the drum museum inside for a small fee. The Bell Tower of Xi'an, holds bronze bells and was once mainly used for publishing and report news in ancient times.

We carry on and head into the Muslim Quarter, a famous snack and commercial street of Xi'an. This area is also inhabited by some 20,000 Muslims, along with 10 mosques. It is said that in the olden days, foreign Arab diplomatic envoys and merchants lived here and they married and had children and so the population gradually increased. Today, most of the inhabitants are descendants of those immigrants and why there is a Muslim community here. Our tour guide tells us that the food here is really good because the food has a different flavour due to the Muslims using different spices and recommends we have group lunch together.

After a delicious lunch, we have some free time to explore the Muslim Quarter, which has non-food market stalls selling things such as textiles and souvenirs. Whilst I walk around the market stalls, I come across the Great Mosque of Xi'an. This mosque is one of the largest premodern mosques of China. There is a small entry fee for non-practising Muslims, which allows you to explore this great mosque which has the appearance of a mosque but with Chinese architecture. The mosque began construction in the Tang Dynasty (618-907) and was actually closed down and used as a steel factory after the Chinese Civil War by the Communist Party but by 1956 became declared as a protected historical and cultural site and is today is currently used by Chinese Hui Muslims as a practise of worship.

We get more free time to explore this city and so I find myself walking around the ancient city wall, also known as the Fortifications of Xi'an, which was built in a perfect square shape to protect the inner city. It is one of the oldest, largest and best preserved walls in China. The walk around the wall is very pleasant as I admire the tree blossom.

I want to visit the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda, which is away from the centre. I try to use maps on my phone but I just can't figure out how to get to the entrance of the pagoda. I find myself in some built-up residential area with very narrow paths and start to become very cold and have this terrible feeling that something is not right and so I decide regrettably to turn back round. I don't often get those sixth senses, but I felt danger and didn't want to take my chances.

In the evening, we take a night time scroll into the centre again. The atmosphere is so different, as everywhere is lit-up in bright colours, and I am not just talking about the important buildings. The trees in the street and parks have Chinese lanterns lit in multiple bright colours and the flowers in the parks, too. I actually prefer this city at night because of the vibrant colours everywhere.

Next day

The next day we have an early start as we take a small private bus to visit Emperor Qinshihuang's Mausoleum Site Museum, famously known for the Terracotta Warriors. This army is a collection of terracotta sculptures depicting the armies of Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China. It is a form of funerary art that was buried with the emperor with the purpose of protecting the emperor in his afterlife. The history of this army dates back to over 2,000 years. The army was first discovered in 1976 and today they're still excavating these sculptures.

Walking around the museum, I am just wowed by how many sculptures there are and the level of detail taken to prepare each one. Some of these sculptures are warriors riding horses, chariots and even a man pulling one along. This army is incredible, as I find myself at pit 1, the largest of three pits. This pit measures an area of 14,260 square meters. Up to now, about 2,000 pottery warriors and horses, 20 wooden chariots have been unearthed within an area of 4,000 square meters. It is assumed there are around 6,000 warriors and horses and 50 chariots buried in pit 1, which is still currently being excavated.

We have a very informative tour guide who joins us specifically for our tour around the Emperor Qinshihuang's Mausoleum Site Museum. We learn that this first emperor is responsible for the Great Wall of China. He had an obsession with immortality and so the Terracotta Warriors were built to protect his tomb and, as mentioned before, to protect and serve him in his afterlife. Some 70,000 workers built his tomb and his 3,000 wives and mistresses followed him to his grave.

The shop at the museum sells Terracotta Warriors, along with other souvenirs. The Terracotta Warriors range from miniature versions to the real-life actual size ones. They will actually ship one to your international address, but I decide on getting myself a 30cm version one, which is not too big to carry around with me for the rest of my journey. I must admit I am pretty tempted for a real-life size one.

We head back to Xi'an and visit a school for children with special needs. It is nice to interact with locals and learn about how the school relies on fundraising and how the children make jewellery and crafts to help raise funds. We learn what a typical day is like for them and we join in playing games and singing "head shoulders, knees and toes" at a fast pace in Mandarin, which is quite comical. One of the children takes a liking to me and gives me a hand drawing of a tree with flowers, a nice memento that I'll take good care of.

In the evening, we visit the Tang Dynasty Palace to see a show of the Tang Dynasty, which comes with a delicious Dumpling dinner beforehand. The show displays the essence of music and dance art from the Tang Dynasty (618-907) and is praised to be a leading entertainment and dinner show in China.

Next stop; Beijing

Additional photos below
Photos: 40, Displayed: 26


31st July 2021
Sunset over Xi'an

The ancient capital of China is a must on any trip to China. To think all the hills surrounding it are tombs and probably less than a handful have been excavated to any extent...yet what there is on show is staggering. This pic reminds me of my first trip to Xian where the pollution was so bad they were talking of abandoning and relocating the city. Glad you had time to have a taste of its myriad of offerings, Alan.
31st July 2021

Did you visit the tomb of the first emperor? That's crazy they were thinking of moving the city. I hadn't realized how bad the pollution was until at this point of taking the photo.
31st July 2021
Terracotta Warriors

Nice photo
An iconic shot well captured.
31st July 2021
Terracotta Warriors

Thank you! Seems buying a new camera has paid off ?
5th September 2021

Great to catch up again on your China blogs Alan ? A great read as always ? Wow, I had no idea that there was a Muslim population in Xi'an, and also a Chinese-style mosque - very interesting! I think you certainly did the right thing in trusting your instincts and turning back when you did, well done. Lovely to hear of the child with special needs taking a liking to you, and the picture she drew for you. I think I would also have been tempted to buy a life-size model of a terracotta warrior!! ?
13th September 2021

Thanks Alex :) I am really glad I followed my gut instinct too, usually I don't and end up regretting it. The Chinese food was probably the most tastiest that I tried in the Muslim Quarter purely because of the different spices they used there. I recently found a shop selling official Terracotta Warriors in Cornwall, although not real-life size ones, but much bigger than the one I purchased in China. I can share the details if you're interested and ever down that way.
5th September 2021
Playing games with the children

Lovely photo
Lovely photo Alan ?
13th September 2021
Playing games with the children

Thanks :)
19th September 2021

Thanks Alan. Please do share the details, it would be interesting to look into :)

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