The Terracotta Army
The Terracotta Army is a true treasure of China. Almost every traveler visiting this country wants to see it. In fact, the Terracotta Army is a burial of ceramic statues of soldiers and horses. A total of 8,099 statues have been found. At first, archaeologists assumed that the warriors in this burial place did not exceed 6 thousand, but then new finds were discovered.
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The Terracotta Army, made as an imitation of an authentic army of the time, is housed in three vaults. It consists of warriors of various ranks and branches, as well as horses. It is true that templates were used to make it (unless you count the individually detailed faces), but their variety is great. There are soldiers without armor in knee-length jackets and there are soldiers in plated armor of various types. Most of the warriors have light hats on their heads, with their hair pulled up in a knot, while others wear folded or double-toothed headdresses. Archers crouch down on one knee or stand at full height. Horses are usually for harnessed fours; however, the war wagons were made of wood and burned, leaving only imprints in the clay. There are also cavalry horses. The boots of the warriors are also variously shaped; the warriors stand on a stand that gives them stability. All of the statues were once painted. The bronze weapons that were originally given to them were mostly stolen when the tomb was ruined, but in some places they are still preserved. The bottoms of crypts were paved; intermediate walls of adobe were covered with a wooden roof, which was covered with excavated earth from above.
Only a small part of the statues was removed to the surface and restored. The work is progressing slowly. First, it is difficult to unite the pieces scattered far apart, as their edges are indistinct. Secondly, it is difficult to install the statues: often the debris cannot withstand the weight load, so we have to build an inner support corset into it. And thirdly, the restorers have learned from the mistakes of previous years, when the excavations were done too quickly and not enough attention was paid, in particular to the preservation of the remnants of paint. They stick to the ground surrounding the figures. They can only be re-fixed to the surface of the statues with a very laborious process.
The Terracotta Army was created to serve Emperor Qin Shi Huang in the afterlife. The emperor had made sure in advance to build himself a decent tomb and provide a luxurious afterlife. This emperor was very powerful, it was he who was able to unite the disparate Chinese kingdoms into one powerful state. Under him, finally, all parts of the Chinese wall began to protect one country.
Qin Shi Huang was a very overbearing emperor, which is not surprising, because then he would not have been able to unite all of China. However, the Emperor in his old age seriously thought about how to live longer, and ideally – forever. He was searching for the elixir of immortality, equipped expeditions designed to extract knowledge in this area. He even used mercury because he believed it could prolong his life.
But apparently the emperor, still, did not fully believe that he could discover the elixir of immortality, so he decided to build a huge necropolis, his tomb, equipped with everything he needed in the afterlife. Even there he intended to be a conqueror and assert his power in that world. In order to win victories in the afterlife, he needed an army. However, at the end of his life, the emperor logically understood that if he killed several thousand soldiers at once, the people would revolt and there would be no one to defend the country, so he did not take this step and decided to create a terracotta army.
But do not think that this was done out of the goodness of your heart. Although Qin Shi Huang kept his warriors alive, his concubines and several thousand workers and their families were slaughtered with him. But the terracotta statues became exact replicas of the living soldiers. Each ceramic statue has its own facial features, its own facial expressions, its own character. Just this surprises scientists, because it was thought that with the technology of the time to create something like this was impossible.
No one thought that something like this could be found in Xi’an Province. The burial site was discovered by chance. An ordinary farmer was digging in the area, and then suddenly stumbled upon the statue of a warrior. The find was reported and archaeologists arrived, who only gradually realized the significance of the event. The Terracotta Army was discovered in 1974, but archaeological work is still going on.
The main work was in 1978-1984, the second period of excavation was in 1985-1986. And only in 2009 the third stage began. For a long time, archaeologists hesitated to continue the work, because of the imperfection of tools and technology were afraid of damaging valuable artefacts. In addition, according to legends, the Emperor Qin Shi Huang ordered to build a very large-scale necropolis, which should have even flowed rivers. And these rivers were filled not with water, but with mercury. In this case, if archaeologists without proper preparation discovered something like this, people could suffer or the man-made rivers themselves would be disrupted.
Vault 1, with a vaulted roof like those found in railway stations, is 230 m long and 62 m wide, and is the largest. Here one can get the best idea of the original arrangement of the statues; one can see nine columns of infantry with a vanguard of three echelons, as well as flanking defenses on the left and right. On the intervening walls, one can discern the imprints of the wooden beams that once carried the ceiling.
Crypts 2 and 3
Crypt 2, in the shape of an inverted “G,” is north of crypt 1. It contains about ninety horse-drawn quadrupeds, as well as again infantry (archers) and cavalry, with riders standing in front of their horses. The excavation process of the Terracotta Army is particularly well traced here. Perhaps most interesting is the exhibition area in the north of the hall, where the figures, weapons, etc. can be seen up close. Crypt 3, the smallest, is to the west of crypt 2. It is shaped like a horseshoe and features the command staff of the army.
In the large building to the right of the entrance are some items found during excavations in the burial mound. The most remarkable exhibits are two bronze harness fours – a covered carriage and an open war chariot with a canopy. Both were broken under the pressure of the earth’s thickness and then reassembled from more than a thousand fragments. It is true that the exceptional abundance of detail – ornaments, weapons, bridles, chains, eating vessels – is revealed only in the illustrated volumes devoted to the Terracotta Army and specifically to the bronze chariots.
Cinema and Trading Halls
To the south of Crypt 1 is a panoramic movie theater that constantly repeats a short film about the emergence and later oblivion of the Terracotta Army. The creation of the army, the subsequent rebellion and the devastation are vividly and dramatically depicted in the genre of feature film. To the west of the crypts, the service center houses the restaurant and trading halls. There, for several hours each day, sits the ruggedly aged peasant who once began drilling the well and to whom we owe the discovery of the clay army, and autographs the books.
The Terracotta Army has posed several riddles to scientists. Most of all, they are interested in where and how the statues were created. It is already known that they all came from different parts of China, only the horses, which weigh more than 200 kg, were created next to the tomb. This territorial distribution means that in each region there must have been special kilns of large size in which the statues could have been made. But no such constructions were found. In addition there was a problem of transportation of statues, until now it is not clear exactly how the ancient Chinese coped with this.
Another question that interests scientists is how the weapons possessed by the terracotta warriors could still be as sharp? Each soldier wields his own weapon. It could be a spear, a crossbow or a sword. All of these weapons could be used in combat today, if the Emperor summons his army again.
Qin Shi Huang Emperor’s Terracotta Army
The Terracotta Army is one of the most striking sights in China. It is definitely a must-see spot when traveling in the Middle Kingdom.
The Terracotta Army is an army of 7,000 soldiers, riflemen, horses, and wagons in full battle gear, created in life-size. The army guarded the tomb of Emperor Qin Shi Huang, China’s first ruler, from 210 BC. In 1987 the Terracotta Army was officially inscribed on the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage List.
Below you will find a detailed description of the Terracotta Army, interesting facts, how to get to the museum complex from Xi’an and more…
Terracotta Army – Useful Information
- The Terracotta Army is the official name of the Tomb of the First Qin Emperor
- Name in Chinese: 秦陵兵马俑 (Qínlíng Bīngmǎyǒng)
- Location: About 30 km east of Xi’an
- Time required to see: 6 hours (including travel time and waiting in line at the ticket office)
- Opening Hours: From March 16 to November 15 from 8:30 am to 6 pm; from November 16 to March 15 from 8:30 am to 5:30 pm
- Physical requirements: Enclosed pavilions; wheelchair elevators provided
- Admission fee: March to November, 150 yuan; December to February, 120 yuan
- How to get there from Xi’an: Bus No. 914, No. 915 and No. 306. Cab fare: 120-150 RMB.
Discovery and Excavation
The terracotta army had been underground for more than 2,000 years until it was discovered in 1974 by local peasants digging a well. This was one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of the 20th century.
The first part of the found burial was called Warehouse No.1. In 1976, two other sections of the Terracotta Army were discovered 20-25 meters from Warehouse No. 1. They were named Warehouse #2 and Warehouse #3.
The Terracotta Army is a monument of great historical significance . Hundreds of life-size warrior statues represent the army that defeated all other Chinese armies during the Warring States Period (475-221 B.C.). This victory was decisive in the formation of the unified Chinese state.
Terracotta Army Museum
The Terracotta Army Museum is located 2 kilometers east of the Mausoleum of Emperor Qin Shi Huang, who succeeded in unifying China 2200 years ago. It was on Qin Shi Huang’s orders that the Terracotta Army was created.
The museum complex today consists of three vaults and an exhibition hall: Vault No. 1, Vault No. 2, Vault No. 3 and the Bronze Chariot Exhibition Hall. Note: Warehouse #1 is usually very crowded.
All of the pavilions are arranged in such a way as to preserve the characteristics of the terracotta army that guarded the rest of Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s tomb. The terracotta warriors are built in strict accordance with the military art of the time: the army is positioned facing east, in the direction of the historical enemies of the Qin kingdom (and towards the entrance). Thus Vault No. 1 was on the right flank, Vault No. 2 on the left, and Vault No. 3 served as the command post and was located in the rear of the terracotta army.
The Terracotta Army – Facts of Interest
- Creation: The construction of the tomb of Emperor Qin Shi Huang and the Terracotta Army, between 246 and 206 BC, involved 720,000 workers.
- The terracotta army was not just soldiers: chariots pulled by horses were found, as well as statues of musicians, acrobats, concubines and even terracotta birds: cranes, ducks, etc.
- Not a single statue is repeated: All terracotta warriors differ in facial features, gestures, and uniforms.
- Over 5 million tourists in 2015: This is a very popular attraction in China and abroad, we strongly recommend avoiding holidays and weekends.
- Excavations nowadays: In Vaults No. 2 and No. 3, excavations and restoration work are still going on to this day.
Warehouse #1 was opened to the public in 1979. It is the largest and most imposing of the pavilions of the Terracotta Army museum complex. It is believed that it housed over 6,000 terracotta statues of soldiers and horses, but about 2,000 are currently on display. All of the most impressive photographs of the terracotta army were taken exactly in Warehouse #1.
Each warrior has unique facial features, hairstyle and gestures. Riders, infantry, archers, bow carriers, senior officers and generals are all built according to the ancient order of battle.
The armor and weapons of many warriors were real: swords, big bows, arrows, spears, axes, and sabers. The weapons were treated with a special compound that resisted corrosion and destruction. After the weapons were brought to the surface after 2200 years, they were still in perfect condition. The swords were as sharp as if they had been sharpened the day before!
The terracotta warriors and horses are arranged toward the east in a rectangular carriage, each soldier armed with a long spear, dagger, or halberd. The vanguard is three rows of infantry in the easternmost part of the force. They are followed by the main force of the terracotta army: armed soldiers in armor and 38 horse-drawn chariots.
In the southern, northern, and western parts of the army were a string of soldiers who served as the defensive wing of the army. Standing in front of such a grandiose ancient army, one can’t help but imagine the ground shaking under the feet of the advancing soldiers.
By the way, be sure to visit the other attractions in Xi’an to learn a lot about the history of ancient China.
Warehouse No. 2
In 1976, about 20 meters north of Warehouse No. 1, Warehouse No. 2 was discovered. It was an important discovery: the archaeologists succeeded in reconstructing a picture of the military formation in ancient times. It consisted of four parts, stretching 94 meters from west to east, 84 meters from north to south and 5 meters in depth, covering an area of 6,000 square meters.
The first part of the army was rows of archers, in a kneeling and standing position. The second part consisted of combat chariots. The third part consisted of a mixed force of infantry, chariots and soldiers, arranged in a rectangular square. The last part included numerous warriors with weapons in their hands. Together, these four units formed a mighty fighting order. As you can see, the Terracotta Army Museum is one of the best places to go with kids in China.
Warehouse #3 is smaller than the other two. Only 68 terracotta statues were found here, many of which are preserved without heads. It is likely that Vault 3 was a command post and that the soldiers were in the higher ranks of the officers.
Bronze Chariots Exhibition Hall
The last pavilion is composed of two bronze chariots that were discovered 20 meters from the western section of Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s tomb in December 1980. The chariots were expertly restored and presented to the public in October 1983.
Each bronze chariot is drawn by four horses and consists of 3,400 component parts. One of the chariots is 3.17 m long and 1.06 m high; the bronze horses are 65 to 67 cm tall and 120 cm long, weighing a total of 1,234 kg.
Bronze was the main material used to create the sculptural group. In addition, each of the chariots is struck by 1,720 details of decoration, made of gold and silver weighing 7 kg. The quality of these chariots is such that they are undoubtedly the best preserved bronze monuments ever found in China. In addition, the Terracotta Chariots are the largest bronzes of ancient times in the world!
This is why Xi’an and the terra cotta warriors are listed among the most beautiful things to do in China , for example: What to do in China – 10 great ideas.
New Terracotta Warriors
To date, four terra-cotta warriors burial sites have been discovered, and statues have been recovered from three of them. This means that the archaeological discoveries will not end there, and the exhibit will only increase!
The Terracotta Army is only part of the impressive Mausoleum of Emperor Qin Shi Huang, which covers an area of 56 km². Most of the museum area remains unexplored. Excavations and restoration work are currently underway, so that in the near future more statues of the imposing army of the first emperor of China will be presented to the public! The rich cultural heritage is one of the main reasons why you should go to China.
Come and see the Terracotta Army in Xi’an!
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