An uncovered long forgotten masterpiece


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Asia » China » Shaanxi » Xi'an
June 24th 2015
Published: August 16th 2015
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This was one of the main places in China that fascinated us long before considering a world trip or even a trip to China. The famed Terracota warriors - a long forgotten tomb housing a stone army with around 8000 life size soldiers each with their own distinguishable features, discovered in Xi'an in 1974. It was no longer forgotten or hidden as intended. Added to this amazing site, Xi'an also has well preserved city walls surrounding its 'ancient city'. There was nothing more to it, it was added firmly on our list, we had to go.

Getting to Xi'an from Zhangjiajie was a 2 part journey. First was a fairly comfortable hard sleeper overnight train (cheapest option) to the town of Nanyang where we sat sleepy eyed at the station for 2 hours until our next train at 7.30am to Xi'an. As we were travelling during the day on the 2nd train, we opted for the hard seats (cheapest option again). This was not the best option. The cabins were cramped, the seats were small and the tables even smaller. We would say hard seats are good for short journeys in China, not the 7hr one we took. We were just glad when the train finally arrived in Xi'an, our bottoms too.

Arriving at the station,  the whole romantic preconception we had of Xi'ans walled city fizzled away. In actuality Xi'an city was just that..a city! A modern day built up city surrounded by a huge wall stretching 13 sq km. 


We think the rain must have followed us from Zhangjiajie too, as it was pouring it down. The skies were grey and the air was cool. Was this not summer? It felt more like a summer back home in England. Oh well!!

That night at the hostel, we attended a "Dumpling Party". One of the many daily social evening events they have on. There were 7 of us in total plus our cook/instructor Mikki. She showed us how to make some delicious chinese dumplings (jiao zi). This included a lesson on how to roll the dough, fill it and fold it. It was a lot of fun but not as much as getting to sample our efforts ourselves. There was plenty to go round and everyone got on well, sharing travel nightmares in China and offering tips for future reference. With an early morning start for sightseeing we said our goodbyes and good lucks and retired to bed.

With the rain gone and the sun shining, we hired bikes in the morning and rode around the huge city wall. Starting at the south entrance, it took us just over an hour to complete one circuit. The wall has been restored a number of times in the past so its not entirely 'ancient' and apparently it used to be even bigger. Riding around was very atmospheric, away from the crowds and the traffic. There were a number of tourists riding, walking or being driven in electric mini buses but it never seemed too crowded. It  intrigued us how much development the city had gone through especially within the confines of the city wall. It was not as picture pefect as we imagined.

Next stop -The Terracotta Warriors. Many hostels offer transpotation to the site for a hefty price that includes a few other things. It worked out much cheaper for us to make our own way there via the local bus which wasn't too difficult to do. An hour and a half ride from the city on one of the many buses that wait outside the train station and we were there.

The site itself is quite a way back from the bus/car park and ticket office, a 20min walk or so to get to the actual entrance. Starting in the museum we walked around, trying our best to not get swept away by the hordes of tour groups. The museum contained some uncovered items from the tomb itself or replicas of some of the warrior figures amongst other artifacts.

From there we moved onto pit 3, (we'd read its best to work backwards as to save the best pit for last) which consisted of a partially excavated pit with a handful of warriors lined up in one corner and some partially uncovered remains in another. Around the pit was a raised walkway for tourists to walk along and peer into the once totally covered tomb. Pit 2 was quite similar, this one had horses in too amongst some other uncovered artifacts. We even got to see some of the archaeologists at work inside the pit itself. 

The crescendo to the site was pit 1, the largest pit and biggest collection of emperor Qin's army. Soldiers upon soldiers all lined up in formation, looking like they were frozen in time moments before going into battle. 

See above panoramic for a scale of this pit.

Each warrior in the pit was specifically positioned to represent their militaryrank and duty with the uniforms and in possesion of different types of weapons including real cross bows, metal swords and spears further illustrating this.

It was fascinating to see the archaelogists at work and to watch the warriors being put together like a jigsaw puzzle, broken by the weight of earth that buried them.  It is astonishing to think that to this day, no written text in history about the tomb ever being created has been discovered. That is despite the amount of manpower that needed to go into it. 

We stood there for a while taking in this amazing wonder and trying to make the crowds disappear from our periphery. We tried to take in the features of the different warriors noting the things that distinguished one from another.  Their facial features; the changing shapes of their face, ears, nose, mouths etc, their hair styles, their gestures and and even their individual expressions. No two are the same. Sometimes it
Jiao zi (dumpling) making lessonJiao zi (dumpling) making lessonJiao zi (dumpling) making lesson

These were really tasty
was really subtle and hard to tell. Interesting all of them have single-edge eyelids which is said to reflect the first emperor eyes as he also had single-edge eyelids. The detail on them was incredible.

It was uncomprehending to think that all these soldiers and horses were built to guard and protect Emperor Qins tomb in afterlife. Did he really believe a life-like army was necessary? Obviously he did.

The effort that was needed to create this was unimaginable, thousands of people molding clay by hand with their whole life dedicated to creating these statutes was fascinating but also quite saddening as afterall these laborers were slaves. 

It is estimated that around 3600 artisans took part to create the armour for these warriors alone and that the whole creation of these tombs and statues took 36 years. 

Being a part of such a masterpiece was gruelling hard work with many punishments dished out for errors and delays. Exposed letters illustrate the poor conditions they had to work in and it is devastating when you realise that these artisans/craftsmen were never rewarded. In fact, their fate had already been sealed. 

After the death of emperor Qin, the second emperor had ordered for all the craftsmen and their assistants to be burried alive in the tomb so that secret of the tomb would never be exposed. Further findings also illustrate high levels of poisonous mercury in the nearby soil which experts believe was placed in underground rivers to futher protect this site from being uncovered. Taking all this into account this site is mindblowing.  

Unfortunately however,  we left this site feeling slightly disappointed as it did not provide much (if any) detail into the history. We could not find information detailing the findings on the site, such as the why it was built, the remains of the craftsmen that had been discovered, some of whom had hidden their names on the warriors,  and along with other impressive findings we knew of. The site relies on the impressive visual nature of the mausoleum itself without putting much context to it. This left us a little disheartened as we had to rely on previous knowledge gained from documentaries and articles we had read. We would therefore recommend a guide for those visiting who can be found right outside the entrance gates. We do regret not using one now.

Nevertheles it was well worth the visit if only to witness this masterpiece with our own eyes even if we had to endure some pushing and shoving by the rude crowds.

That evening we made our way to the night market in the Muslim district. Not too far from the 'old' drum tower in the centre of town lies a thriving muslim (Hui chinese) community with a chinese temple inspired mosque at its centre and what seemed like some exceptionally long alleys surrounding  it. The night market was full of food and trinket stalls. All next to each other selling a selection of foods that ranged from fried bread to pigs feet. Chris tried a popular stewed mutton sandwich (there was a long queue for it, so seemed worth trying) which he thoroughly enjoyed. Unfortunately for P there was a major lack of vegetable dishes for her to try. Which was a first in China. Her only options in the muslim district were the steering wheel sized fried bread or the popular nutty snack we'd came across in Yangshuo, both of which she wasn't too keen on. After a while, walking along the busy streets it seemed to get a bit 'samey', there were shops next to each other selling the exact same thing!  It was a nice area to stroll around for a few minutes but a little too much of a tourist trap taking away from what might have once been a more interesting authentic muslim area.


Additional photos below
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16th August 2015
This was some of the cheapest and tastiest foods we had in China

Yum!
I wish I could have this for dinner tonight (apart from P's green capsicum dish)!
17th August 2015
This was some of the cheapest and tastiest foods we had in China

Yum!
This was really tasty. The dish in front is mine (P's) and includes a mix of a fried tomatoes and egg, fried cabbage in a black pepper sauce and a flavoursome green beans mix. Was very tast. Chris had shreded potatoes, sweet chilli chicken and not sure what the third dish was, it from a vegetable that looks like a cucumber and tastes very sour (we both weren't very keen on this one). To our surprise we really liked Chinese food.
16th August 2015

Terracotta warriors
Definitely a must in Xian as you say. If you have not passed on yet try to get to Han Yangling, sometimes called Han Jing Di, another terracotta warrior site near Xian Airport but from the next Dynasty after Qin, the Han. The terracotta armies of animals will blow you away.
17th August 2015

Terracota Warriors.
Wow sounds impressive! Unfortunately we missed it. We did intially intend on going to that site but were too tired in the end and so gave it a miss. We had read great reviews about it too. We will definately be back to China someday so it'll be on our not to missed list for next time.
16th August 2015

I really want to go there!
This is on my bucket list, the Terracotta soldiers in Xi'an is really fascinating. =)
17th August 2015

Terracota Warriors.
It really is great wonder not to be missed. The more we travel our bucket lists just keep getting longer! Sometimes I wonder whether its best to just be naive about the world but then that could never happen now!
17th August 2015

Big picture
Whoops, I thought the dish at the back was P's vego one. And thanks for including pictures showing the whole terracotta army site, I never knew that they were enclosed in that structure...I've only seen close up pictures of the statues before. Like you, whenever we come across big impressive iconic sites like this, we can't help but question the human misery that fuelled it all those centuries ago.
21st August 2015

Big picture
Us neither. The size of them is mind blowing which we did not fully anticipate ☺. Great travellers think alike Ren.
20th August 2015

Great Blogs
Hi Guys I started reading your blogs last week as part off my research for our upcoming trip in Feb. Your last blog is from end of June, have you stopped blogging? I really hope you add more soon. They are really good and very informative. Hope you are having a blast! Tina and Rob
21st August 2015

Great blogs
Thanks Tina and Rob. Its lovely to hear you are reading our blogs before your trip. Hopefully it will give you lots of inspiration. Would love to read yours too especially to see your take on some of the places we visit, possibly give us more inspiration too. P.s. the research bit is one of the many fun parts. Enjoy.
20th August 2015

Great Blogs
Ha, I just noticed they were actually published just a few days ago. Phew. I was dreading having to find a new blog that was 'my kinda blog'.
21st August 2015

updates
You got it. We're kinda behind in publishing. Up to date in writing but as we have to sort out pictures, ensure we have wifi connection and a free evening we roughly piblish a month or 2 afterwards. Its tricky blogging on the road but completely doable. Thanks for your lovely words about our blogs, as they reflect our opinions/personalities sometimes we question whether they will appeal to many so its lovely to hear people keep reading 😊

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