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The Terracotta Army in Xian, China

Updated on January 5, 2014
Iammattdoran profile image

Matt is an avid traveller and self-confessed 'man of the world'. He is passionate about his home city, Manchester, and about travelling.

Terracotta Army

Terracotta Army Warriors in place in pit 1
Terracotta Army Warriors in place in pit 1 | Source

The Terracotta Army

The site of the huge on-going excavation of the Terracotta Army is located about an hour outside of the Chinese city of Xian. There are a number of daily buses that depart from Xian and terminate at the Museum of the Terracotta Army. Along with the Great Wall of China the Army of Terracotta Warriors and Horses is the most famous and most well-visited of all of China's tourist destinations. Entry costs to the Terracotta Army museum at the time of writing are 150RMB for adults and 75RMB for students with a valid ID. As with most tourist spots in China, and elsewhere in Xian, it's worth remembering your student ID as the discount entry price to the Terracotta Army exhibition is a huge saving.

Where is the Terracotta Army

A markerxian -
Xi'an, Shaanxi, China
get directions

What is the Terracotta Army

The Army of the Terracotta Warriors and Horses is often described as the 8th Wonder of the World. When travelling, you're likely to come across a number of attractions that are promoted as the eighth wonder of the world, many of which wouldn't even make it into the top 20. With the Terracotta Army though, they may actually be right. It's hard to prepare yourself for how amazing and wonderful this place actually is, the sheer size is likely to blow you away.

What is the Terracotta Army (Continued)

What's incredible is that these Terracotta Army warriors and soldiers figures, dating back to the late third century BC, were not discovered until 1974 when a group of local farmers came across them when digging for water. Farmers and villagers in the Xian region had long been known to unearth bits and pieces of terracotta when digging up the fields, but the findings in 1974 lead Chinese archaeologists into setting up a dig site and subsequently uncovering the largest group of pottery figurines ever found: they had uncovered an army, a Terracotta Army!. What started as a dig in single pit has now become an excavation on a massive scale with 4 huge pits all still 'in operation' ie archaeologists are still working on them, with Terracotta Army soldiers and warriors still being found today. It is estimated that in the 3 pits which have been found to contain figures there are over 8000 terracotta army soldiers, 520 terracotta army horses, 130 chariots and 150 cavalry horses. Much of these have still yet to be discovered.

Terracotta Army picture

Reconstructed Terracotta Army Soldier on display
Reconstructed Terracotta Army Soldier on display | Source

Army of the First Emperor of Qin

The Terracotta Army Soldiers and warriors figures are life-size and vary in height in order of military importance. Each terracotta figure was intricately designed and detailed with unique hairstyles, facial expressions and colours. The Terracotta Army warriors were given actual weapons (although many of these were plundered shortly after the army was created), and made to stand / line up in the pits in precise military position. All of the figures were supposedly assembled as the afterlife army of the first emperor of Qin, Qin Shi Huang. This is the Qin Shi Huang Terracotta Army. The tomb of Qin Shi Huang is buried somewhere close to the site of the Terracotta Army,

Terracotta Army Excavation

Pit 1, the largest of the 4 pits of the Terracotta Army excavation site, is 230 metres long and 62 metres wide and contains over 6000 terracotta figures, many of which are warriors and horses that have been repositioned into the precise military positions in which they would have originally been placed as instructed by the first emperor, Qin Shi Huang. Archaeologists working on site have determined that the pits in which the Terracotta Warriors were buried were covered by a wooden ceiling held up by wooden beams and then covered with soil, the depth of which would have gradually increased over the centuries before their discovery.

Terracotta Army picture

Terracotta Army Excavations in pit 1
Terracotta Army Excavations in pit 1 | Source

Terracotta Army Poll

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Reconstructing The Terracotta Army

Pit 1 contains a total of 11 corridors in which the Terracotta Army soldiers and warriors were placed in military positions. These corridors would have represented the halls of the royal palace of the first emperor. Some of the terracotta figures in the pit have shown signs of fire damage. It is now assumed that a great fire occurred not long after the creation of the Terracotta Army during an uprising against the first emperor. This fire caused the roof to collapse and crush all the terracotta figures. Since the finding of the terracotta army, painstaking work has gone into piecing the figures back together and putting them into their original positions. Throughout the complex visitors are able to witness examples of how the figures are found and how they are being delicately reconstructed.

The Terracotta Army

Terracotta Army Warriors in military positions.
Terracotta Army Warriors in military positions. | Source

Learn more about the Terracotta Army with this fantastic book

The Eternal Army: The Terracotta Soldiers of the First Emperor
The Eternal Army: The Terracotta Soldiers of the First Emperor

This lavish volume offers a detailed look at that astonishing terracotta army, and the life and times of the man whose resting place it guards, the first chinese emperor, Qin Shi Huang. Combining Terracotta Army pictures taken expressly for the book with essays by leading experts, this is both a profile of a legendary figure and an unprecedented view of a spectacular archaeological site.

 

The Terracotta Army

How the Terracotta Army figures are being found
How the Terracotta Army figures are being found | Source

More about the Terracotta Army site

What I find really fascinating is that everything that has been discovered so far is really all we know. The findings have allowed archaeologists and scientists and historians to make estimations and predictions but we really don't know for sure what else is buried in the area and what's going to be found next. We don't yet know how big the Terracotta Army actually is! Only weeks after I had visited the site, archaeologists uncovered another 200 terracotta figures which had previously not been known about.

Learn more about the Terracotta Army with this excellent book

The Terracotta Army of the First Emperor of China (Genius of China Close-Up Guides)
The Terracotta Army of the First Emperor of China (Genius of China Close-Up Guides)

The incredible terracotta army comes to life in photographs, diagrams and lucid text. Who commissioned this massive military tableau? What was its purpose? How many people worked on it and for how long? The answers are all here in this book—the amazing story behind one of the Wonders of the World. Full-color photographs and illustrations throughout.

 

The First Emperor of China

There are so many fascinating questions around why the first emperor of China wanted to build such a vast Terracotta Army and why they were buried underground with him. The building of the mausoleum of the Emperor took around 700,000 people to construct. It is estimated that the mausoleum and tomb of the Emperor is the size of a football pitch and is buried beneath a large mound of earth near the site of the Terracotta Army. To this day, no attempt has been made to excavate the tomb of the first emperor. It is believed that there are high levels of mercury in the soil in the area but this is generally discredited as a reason not to excavate. There are more serious concerns about being able to preserve whatever artefacts may be found within the first emperors tomb.

Terracotta Army Picture

Horses and Chariot, part of the Terracotta Army, available to be viewed up close
Horses and Chariot, part of the Terracotta Army, available to be viewed up close | Source

Read more about the Terracotta Army

The Terra Cotta Army: China’s First Emperor and the Birth of a Nation
The Terra Cotta Army: China’s First Emperor and the Birth of a Nation

John Man tells the fascinating story of how and why these astonishing Terracotta Warriors were created in the third century BC, and how they have become a symbol of China’s history, culture, and society.

 

A must-have for any visit to China

China Survival Guide: How To Avoid Travel Troubles and Mortifying Mishaps, Revised Edition
China Survival Guide: How To Avoid Travel Troubles and Mortifying Mishaps, Revised Edition

Originally released in time for the China Olympics, this little book immediately caught on with first-time and seasoned travelers thanks to its compact format, affordability, and reliable information delivered with savvy humor. The authors have now improved their work with new sections on critical issues like air travel and appropriate clothing, lots of data updates and fresh recommendations, plus all-new photographs and captions to make the book even more fun to browse. Uniquely designed to address all the travails of being a foreign tourist in China, it includes practical checklists on transportation, lodging, walking, haggling, medical and bathroom emergencies, etiquette, crowds, and learning the twin arts of patience and persistence.

 

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    • bdegiulio profile image

      Bill De Giulio 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      Matt, this is fascinating. I have always wanted to visit the Terracotta Museum. Hopefully some day? I find the whole story just incredible and very interesting. Great photos and a really great read. Voted up, shared, pinned, etc...

    • maxoxam41 profile image

      Deforest 4 years ago from USA

      Very interesting. I love Asian culture.

    • Iammattdoran profile image
      Author

      Matt Doran 4 years ago from Manchester, UK

      I hope you do get there one day Bill. It really is a fascinating experience - my photo's don't even do it justice. The intricate detailing on the figures is incredible and when you think they created thousands and thousands of them it just blows your mind. Many thanks for reading and commenting. Matt

    • SheGetsCreative profile image

      Angela F 2 years ago from Seattle, WA

      I saw a partial display of the warriors in LA in the 1980s. Amazing to say the least!

    • Iammattdoran profile image
      Author

      Matt Doran 2 years ago from Manchester, UK

      I hadn't realised that the collections went on tour. That's cool! I'm going to have a look to see if this still happens. I guess there's risks associated with transporting them but opens the experience up to so many more people. Thanks for the comment.

    • profile image

      mikeydcarroll67 2 years ago

      There are so many of them! I remember my coworkers in China talking about these!

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