Terracotta Warriors - 8th Wonder Of The World

Trip Start Oct 04, 2012
Trip End Dec 14, 2012

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Flag of China  , Shaanxi,
Friday, October 19, 2012

In 2007 I went to see the stunning Terracotta Warriors exhibition at the British Museum and knew that one day I would have to see the army in Xi'an. Well, today was that day. As with many things in China, the scale of the site is far bigger than I imagined and the entire museum area, park, cinema and 3 pits is enormous and yet only covers a tiny fraction of the burial complex.

The life size warriors were discovered in 1974 by a local farmer. Today he was sitting in the gift shop outside the main pit #3, signing copies of the official guide book. My guide told me that when Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton visited the terracotta warriors in 1998, they asked the farmer for his autograph but as he could not write, he drew 3 circles. Apparently, it was Bill who suggested that the farmer be taught to read and write so that he could sign copies of the guidebook, thus generating more revenue. Good old Bill!

Built in 40 years, by hundreds of thousands of labourers, over 2000 years ago, the army stands guard over the tomb of Emperor Qin Shihuang. He succeeded in unifying China for the first time and initiated the construction of the Great Wall. Clearly he thought he would be ruling in the next life and needed an army of over 6000 men to protect him.

The level of detail is extraordinary, not just the faces, hairstyles and uniforms but even the soles of the soldiers' shoes are decorated according to the fashion of the day. There are soldiers of different rank, archers kneeling, horses lined up, each one unique and assembled from many moulded parts. All the wooden elements, the roof and charriots have long since rotted. It must have been a formidable sight 2000 years ago when the Emperor was burried. Unfortunately the paint used for the brightly coloured uniforms has vanished but modern technology has identified traces of sian blue, red, white and even purple.

Bus loads of visitors and school children flock to the site every day and I am guessing some of them must buy the minature and full size reproductions of the warriors. Souvenirs are big business in Xi'an.

The city is an interesting snapshot of China. 8.7m people live here but the downtown area, within the historic city walls, is only about a tenth of the city. In the centre is the Muslim Quater, bustling lanes full of street food and more terracotta warrior souvenir shops. There are huge modern shopping malls with lots of shop assistants but not many shoppers and as you go further out there are endless tower blocks and more being built. Plus there's the expansion of the subway from 2 lines to 6.

I ventured into a supermarket to buy some snacks for my travels. It was a bewildering experience trying to identify a couple of items to buy in non catering sizes. In addition I was happy to find zip lock bags and a small flask. Dinner at a street side restaurant, more dumplings and a chicken wing skewer set me back 2. Happy days.
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