Exploring Asia Overview
Cathay Pacific B777-300ER Business Class San Francisco to Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific Lounge Review: The Cabin at HKG
Cathay Dragon A330-300 Business Class Hong Kong to Beijing
Lodging Review: Regent Beijing Hotel
Beijing: Dongcheng District
Beijing: The Great Wall
Beijing: Run-ze Jade Garden
Beijing: The Sacred Way of the Ming Tombs
Beijing: The Legend of Kung Fu
Beijing: Tiananmen Square
Beijing: The Forbidden City
Beijing: Hutong Tour via Rickshaw, Tea Tasting, Flying to Xi’an
Lodging Review: Hotel Shangri-La Xi’an
Xi’an: Qing Dynasty Terra Cotta Warriors
Xi’an: Tang Dynasty Dinner and Show
Xi’an Wrap-Up, Flying to Lhasa, Lhasa Home Visit
Lodging Review: Shangri-La Hotel Lhasa
Lhasa: Jokhang Temple and Barkhor Market
Lhasa: Canggu Nunnery and Sera Monastery
Lhasa: Potala Palace
Leaving Lhasa and Flying to Chongqing
Cruising the Three Gorges
Three Gorges Dam
Jingzhou City Walls Tour
Wuhan: Hubei Bells Performance and Provincial Museum
Shanghai: Shanghai Museum
Lodging Review: Fairmont Peace Hotel, Shanghai
Shanghai: Old Shanghai and Yuyan Gardens
Lodging Review: The New Otani Tokyo Hotel
Tokyo: City Tour
Mt. Fuji and Hakone Tour Returning by Shinkansen
ANA Suites Lounge Review, Tokyo Narita
All Nippon Airways B777-300ER First Class Tokyo Narita to Houston
Our day in Xi’an was a beautiful one. Still a little cool but sunny skies were plentiful. Today was one of the highlights of the tour for me. I moved to Memphis in 1994 and the next year there was an exhibit at the convention center called Imperial Tombs of China featuring some of the terra cotta warriors. I talked a friend into going with me so it was a thrill for us to see the warriors in their “natural habitat” some 22 years later.
Qin Shi Huang (chin shee hwang) was the first emperor of China. He took the throne in 246 BC at the age of 13 and that’s when this project began as an appropriate burial spot was found using feng shui. As was noted with the Ming Tombs, the tomb is at the base of a mountain which extends around it in a curving fashion, almost as if the emperor is in a chair with arms on either side for protection.
By the time Qin died in 210 BC at the age of 49, the project had grown to approximately 38 square miles and it is estimated that there are over 8000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and another 150 cavalry horses contained in three large archeological pits. Most of these figures have not and will not be uncovered until technology advances further. The figures were painted when they were buried yet in as little as 15 seconds after exposure to the dry air the colors begin to peel and fade. A fourth large pit was found but is empty. Outside the main necropolis were a number of smaller pits containing non-military figures such as bronze carriages, terra cotta acrobats and strong men, stone armor suits and burial sites of both horses and laborers.
After going through the gates, it’s a bit of a walk to reach the pits. It’s not a difficult walk but it is perhaps a kilometer away. Alternately you can pay to ride the tram (as was included with our Viking tour). I found it amusing that here among ancient tombs, the presence of McDonald’s was on display.
Upon exiting the tram we followed the path to a large plaza where we could see all three of the archeological pits. Pit 1 is the most famous and contains most of the soldiers but Pits 2 and 3 are definitely worth seeing too.
We walked in the front door of Pit 1, through a small lobby and out onto a small platform and there were the soldiers, all lined up in front of us. Naturally there’s a bit of a crowd at this viewing point as everyone tries to get photos to convey just how large this area is.
Pit 1 is 750 feet long and 203 feet wide, making it long enough for two American football fields with thirty feet to spare on either side.
The domed ceiling even gives the building the feeling of an athletic field or perhaps an airplane hangar. I liked the skylights throughout as the room tended to be a little dark and artificial light just wouldn’t make it seem the same. The original pit had a wood roof but over the years it collapsed and it is assumed part of what caused some of the warriors to be smashed into pieces. The earth-rammed walls in between the soldiers were used to support the roof.
The army was discovered in 1974 when some farmers were digging a well at one end of what is now Pit 1. The bricks discovered near the well site are the earliest-made bricks discovered in China.
The soldiers guard the east end of the tomb, which has not yet been opened due to concerns over ways to preserve its artifacts.
There were a few sections of the terra cotta “hospital” where the statues had been painstakingly reassembled and glued into place and what looks like plastic wrap was being used to hold all the pieces together until the adhesive set.
Why are so many statues missing heads? Because the head was completely detachable from the body. That allowed the creators to make a hollow body which, as you can imagine, made the figures considerably lighter than they would have been if they were solid. It also meant the heads were exchangeable to a degree. You may notice that each face is unique and it makes me wonder how many of these faces were modeled on the artists and laborers who created the figures and dug the pits.
There were archeologists at work on the army while we were there. You can see the section roped off on the right, which was where the workers were with additional lighting as they worked on part of the world’s largest jigsaw puzzles.
Pit 2 did not have the natural lighting of Pit 1 and was not as thoroughly excavated. Here we saw horses and chariot drivers but no chariots.
Pit 3 is the least excavated. Ground-penetrating radar was used to help determine what figures are underneath the centuries of soil and sand.
The Pit 3 building also had a few of the better-preserved figures behind glass, which was similar to the way I’d seen them all those years ago in Memphis. There are four major types of warrior figures. This is a Kneeling Archer. Those his crossbow is long-gone, his hands are still set to hold it.
Seven of these High-Ranking Officers, or Generals, were found in these pits. He wears double-layered robes beneath his armor and a hat that ties beneath his chin. His shoes have square openings and upward-bending tips.
Our last stop was the Museum of Bronze Works. It was filled recovered bronze items like the one below. I’d have like to have captured more photos but it was extremely crowded and I was starting to feel a bit claustrophobic.
The Chinese may not like some Western things but one thing they’ve learned quite well: at museums and attractions, force the guests to leave through the gift shop. In this case it’s not a single shop but a veritable outdoor mall of gift shops and eateries, including Burger King, that you pass by on the way to the parking lot. Fortunately it’s wide enough that you don’t feel like you’re running a gauntlet. They even had an indoor ski slope and I was disappointed we didn’t have time to visit.
This museum was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987 and it’s the largest funerary site ever uncovered. The site is presented extremely well and it is a must-see if you’re anywhere in the area of Xi’an.