World's Biggest Jigsaw Puzzle

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April 13th 2013
Published: April 29th 2013
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Everything was going so well the next morning. Our planned taxi journey to the station area of Xian to pick up our coach to the Terracotta Army went without a hitch - well there was a minor blip when our taxi driver decided he would stop for breakfast en-route but apart from that all good. And then we saw the queues for the coaches to the Terracotta Warriors! As they say in Norfolk where Lottie Let Loose hails from 'Ooooh moi gard!' There were literally hundreds of people in the queue (the fact that the Chinese were actually queuing warranted a photo!) and it wasn't moving as far as we could make out. Dennis hadn't ever seen it this bad before, but this is where having a fab local tour guide comes into its own. A few phone calls later and he had got us a ride, through a friend of a friend and we relinquished our place in the queue, that had only move about 2 metres in the time we'd been waiting, and followed our personal driver to his vehicle a few streets away and we were off....sort of...the traffic was really bad, so along with everyone else trying to get to the Terracotta Army, we were crawling along at snail's pace for quite a way out of the city. Eventually things seemed to ease up a bit and we got on our way.

A very slow 17 miles later and we finally arrived at the Terracotta Army site. A long walk to the ticket barrier and another long walk to the pits and - deep breath - woah there we were standing in front of the most amazing archaeological discovery! The main pit is housed in a big arched roof hangar with a viewing platform all around the edge. At the front are the horses and infantry soldiers that have been expertly restored - not quite to their former glory as the originals were painted, but as good as. Further down the pit are still some of the smashed warriors waiting to be restored or half way through their jigsaw work. At the back you can see lots of half made up warriors, work stations and a lab.

A quick potted history of the site goes something like this. In 1974 some farm workers were digging a well and up in their bucket came some stunning pieces of pottery that they took to government officials to have a look at. It was then that archaeologists began to unearth the amazing hoard of rank upon rank of the life size pottery figures modeled from yellow clay. They were made to guard the tomb of Qin Shi Huangdi, a despotic leader who unified China over 2,200 years ago. It was believed in those days that in the afterlife you would need to provide an army and other essentials for a despotic leader to enable his egotistic reign to continue in the afterlife! Hence the thousands upon thousands of massed ranks of infantry soldiers, archers, horses, high ranking officers and carriages. Over 38 years he instructed and oversaw the building of his own tomb using 700,000 convicts to do the work. The figures, all different, were originally painted vivid colours; some now retain traces of this paint, but most has faded or disappeared due to exposure to the air. The archaeologists have proved that the site was looted and burned, and most of the warriors smashed, probably by the military leader Xiang Yu who overthrew the regime of Qin Shi Huangdi. Since their discovery in 1974 only a fraction
Terracotta Warriors - Pit 1Terracotta Warriors - Pit 1Terracotta Warriors - Pit 1

Showing they used to have weaponry.
of the figures have been fully restored. The site also extends beyond the three current pits being worked on and it is believed that a mound a mile to the west is the actual burial place of Qin Shi Huangdi. Historical sources portray a plan of his empire that include 48 tombs for concubines who would have been buried alive to stay with him after his death.

And so back to pit one. Here there are row upon row of soldiers all facing the same way. Some appear as if holding weapons but these are missing from the scene, having been looted. When you look at the faces and hairstyles and clothing each is different from its neighbour. Just amazing detail. In pit 2 there are areas showing the roof work that must cover many thousand more warriors yet to be unearthed. And pit 3 has many of the higher ranked officials, shown by their clothing. There is also a museum where you can some some of the warriors close up and a couple of special pieces of bronze worked carriages found near to the tomb.

It was so amazing to see. We weren't supposed to use flash photography so it was quite hard to get a good clear shot with my camera. I mastered the technique of nabbing a front row spot and holding my camera against the guard rail to keep it really still and I think I managed a few clearer shots.

So the world's biggest jigsaw continues and is likely to continue for some decades to come. I can't even begin to imagine the patience needed to undertake such a task, but one that is well worth the effort.

Outside in the sunshine once more we are all slightly overwhelmed by the experience and headed quietly back towards our vehicle with a bit of bargaining for replica terracotta warriors along the way at some of the market stalls. I decide to get something more me, a beautiful ocarina. And then I spot some street sellers flying these pretty sets of kites on long strings and get a couple of these for my girls to try flying back home. And so back to Xian and another wait at the train station for our last sleeper train journey of our trip - this time to China's capital Beijing.

What an amazing experience, visiting the stunning Terracotta Army in China.

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