RETURN TO HOMEPAGE

Current Location

Xi'an China

A Day With The Terracotta Warriors

6,000 of these figures have already been discovered. They'll probably find a few more as well.
6,000 of these figures have already been discovered. They’ll probably find a few more as well.
Each face is individual, and the sculptors actually modelled for one another. So these are the faces of the sculptors who created the army. You think that's a nice story? Well the emperor didn't. He killed 8,000 of them when he found out. The bastard.
Each face is individual, and the sculptors actually modelled for one another. So these are the faces of the sculptors who created the army.
You think that’s a nice story? Well the emperor didn’t. He killed 8,000 of them when he found out. The bastard.
The vast hanger where the excavations are taking place. The archaeologist's gear can still be seen at the far end.
The vast hanger where the excavations are taking place. The archaeologist’s gear can still be seen at the far end.
The level of detail on these chaps was amazing, right down to the soles of their boots! This feller was an archer. Obviously.
The level of detail on these chaps was amazing, right down to the soles of their boots! This feller was an archer. Obviously.

When you die, and go to the afterlife, wouldn’t it be handy if you could take something with you? A few books maybe, or perhaps some of your favorite records? You know, just something to pass the time.

That’s what the first Chinese Emperor Qin Shi Huang did when he died. Except he didn’t take any music or books, or even his iPod. Instead he took an entire army with him, getting thousands of workers to dig a gigantic tomb, and fill it with thousands of two metre high, intricately designed warriors, all lined up in battle formation.

I suppose if you’ve got nothing better to do…

The theory was that these warriors would protect the emperor in the afterlife, and help his reign to continue. Unfortunately, shortly after his death, a peasant uprising sent hoards of angry people rampaging across the country sacking emperor’s tombs. Said peasants chanced upon Emperor Qin’s tomb, and they saw fit to trash and then set fire to it. Turns out that massive clay soldiers don’t actually put up much of a fight. The fire critically damaged the tomb, and the ceiling fell in, burying the remaining warriors inside for 2,200 years…

Until, in 1974, some farmers digging for water uncovered the tomb. The Government very kindly took the farm over from the farmer (rewarding him with 10 Yuan – about £1) and archeologists moved in. The resulting excavation has so far uncovered 6,000 warriors. Its not finished yet – there are 70 years to go. The Time Team isn’t known for its pace. There may well be further unknown tombs still to be discovered. Its boom time for Baldrick.

Today the Terracotta Warriors are one of the big tourist attractions in China. Hoards of visitors arrive each day to wander around the three excavated pits, peering down at the figures below. The biggest – Pit 1 – is where the iconic rows of warriors are housed, in a vast building more akin to an aircraft hanger than a major excavation. We spent yesterday wandering around the excavation site, which has been turned into a fully equipped tourist theme park, complete with touts, souviner stands and people flogging all sorts of tat. Exit through gift shop.

It was an interesting trip, in all. Seeing the warriors was fascinating, although tourists are kept at a safe distance. I suppose its one of these things you go and see because its there, and you can’t come to Xi’an and not see the Terracotta Warriors. It’d be a bit like going to Paris and not seeing the Eiffel Tower, really. But it was a worthwhile trip. You can get there on your own steam if you want – bus links from Xi’an are regular and reliable. It cost me £28 for a tour. If you do it all yourself you’ll save about a tenner, but I didn’t mind paying the extra pennies for a tour guide (who’s name was YaYa. Or Lady YaYa, as she referred to herself). I even met some tremendously nice people to look around with. All told, a pleasant afternoon spent looking at 2,000 year old blokes.