I was pushed by the crowd around me all the way to the edge of the pit. Once there, I stopped and stared entranced by the sight of the thousands of warriors, trapped in time in their glass domed building. The first five corridors alone covered more than 2000 square feet. And the faces of the warriors, numbering in the thousands, were individualized. I was told that the sculptors used each other as models.
Flight From Beijing to Xi An Allows for a Full Day Tour
It had been a last minute offer. Did I want to go on a day trip from Beijing to Xi An to see the terra cotta warrirors? There would be just two of us, a colleague’s friend, who I had just met, and myself. Luckily, we had the same agenda– as much time as possible with the warriors and no shopping. We left Beijing at six am and got back to our hotel at 10pm.
In Your Bucket Because…
- There is literally nothing like this anywhere else in the world. The sheer size of the first pit makes it worth the trip.
- The museum sections display many of the miniatures and unusual pieces from the emperor’s collections.
- Good for anyone with an interest in history or a fascination with the unusual.
Viewing individual exhibits was challenging given the busloads of tourists being shepherded through on tight schedules. The exhibits include not just individual warriors, but also brass and other works both full size and miniature. Our guide suggested we enjoy the main pit until there was a break between tour groups, then make our way in relative peace into the museum area where individual pieces from the dig can be viewed up close.
That worked well. We spent time walking around the pit until he signaled to us to head back into the museum section. I felt sorry for the bus crowds who would not have the chance to really spend time with the warriors, but pleased that we could just stand and look for as long as we liked.
Drawbacks of the Standardized Tour of Xi An
On arriving at Xi An airport we were greeted by our guide and taken by car to a small terra cotta factory on the outskirts of town. The factory, a shopping mall in drag, was set up to show how the terra cotta warriors had been made. But it was clear the real reason to be there was to buy a terra cotta warrior replica of our own.
When we told our guide we were ready to go after just a few minutes, he first stalled, then he explained that we could not go to the restaurant where we were scheduled to have lunch until a certain time. We would have plenty of time at the site but we had to make these required stops first. We were the first into, and out of, that restaurant.
History of the Chinese Terra Cotta Warriors
Archaeological sites are fascinating for their ability to link us with history. The emperor, Qin Shi Huang, had work started on this mausoleum in 246BC, when he first came to the throne. Eleven years later it was finished. Today some sections are in ruins, although the cause of the damage — standard issue looting or a more fanciful story of murder and revenge — is disputed.
Our guide told us that damage to the tombs occurred after the potters who constructed the warriors were killed to ensure they didn’t disclose the site to the emperor’s enemies. Their families broke into the tombs, burning and smashing everything they could in revenge. It seems this was a bit of a fanciful flight of imagination as most accounts say looters were responsible for the damage. I think it makes a more interesting tale than the standard tomb raiders stories.
After we had toured the entire complex, there was time to go back to Pit 1. I found a spot near the ‘hospital’ area where statues were waiting to be restored and where fewer people spent time. In the relative quiet, I studied the warriors, both intact and broken, feeling the link between the past and present.
- Most major hotels and tourist agencies can book flights from Beijing for tours of Xi An. For anyone who has the time, it would be best to plan on spending at least two days in the area, as even more of this UNESCO World Heritage site has been opened to tourists in the last year.
- Structured tours are no longer required. Individuals can travel by dedicated tourism bus or taxi directly to the site. Shuttle buses are available to take visitors to all areas of the complex.
- Comfortable shoes are a must. Even with the shuttle buses there is a lot of ground to be covered. Depending on the season, layers may be needed for moving between buildings and viewing outdoor exhibits.
Thanks to Dennis Jarvis for sharing the great pictures from his China collection on Flickr.