Terracotta Warriors

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Flag of China  , Shaanxi,
Friday, April 27, 2012

Xi'an is one of the oldest cities in China (with more than 3,100 years of history). It is a walled city, as you can see from the photos, and is one of the four great ancient capital cities of China. Today it still thrives, and not just because of tourism attracted by the Terracotta Warriors. It is home to some 8 million locals. 

We spent the first day in Xi'an trying to organise our departure from the city. Eventually we managed to get two train tickets to Pingyao even though the ticketing office told us they were fully booked and that the train didn't exist. 

Despite the history, the city has nothing particularly exciting to report. Like the other large cities we have visited in China to date, it has enormous malls with every western luxury you could dream of. Strangely, however, the malls are almost entirely empty other than the shop assistants. We aren't quite sure how they pay their air conditioning bills!

The second and last day in Xi'an we caught two local buses out to the Terracotta Warriors. Despite being more than 1 hour long, the bus cost 7RMB each (approximately NZ$1.50).
The Terracotta Army (AKA the Terracotta Warriors and Horses) is a collection of terracotta sculptures depicting the armies of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China. It is a form of funerary art buried with the emperor in 210–209 BC and whose purpose was to protect the emperor in his after life, and to make sure that he had people to rule over! The figures, dating from 3rd century BC, were discovered in 1974 by some local farmers who were digging a well.

The figures vary in height according to their roles, with the tallest being the generals. They include warriors, chariots and horses as you can see from the photos. Current estimates are that in the three pits containing the Terracotta Army there were over 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses, the majority of which are still buried in the pits. Other terracotta non-military figures were also found in other pits, including officials, acrobats, strongmen and musicians.

Work on the Emperor's mausoleum began in 246 BC soon after Emperor Qin ascended the throne (then aged 13), and the full construction later involved 700,000 workers.

It is an amazing scene seeing row after row of almost life like warriors standing to attention for eternity. One can only imagine what sort of 13 year old gave the order to begin building such a collection... and at such a human cost too. Still, it is a marvel to behold and an amazing display of craftsmanship given the remarkable detailed faces, clothes and weapons and sheer perseverance given the sheer scale!

I better stop writing and start packing for our 8 hour overnight train trip to Pingyao, another ancient walled city.
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