China’s city of Xi’an is perhaps best known for its Terracotta Warriors, a significant archaeological discovery that attracts many curious tourists today. Located in Shanxi Province, Xi’an was thrust into the spotlight in the 1970s when local farmers made an incredible discovery: the Qin Tomb Terracotta Warriors and Horses. Visit Xi’an and learn more about a huge formidable and life-size stone army that remained buried for thousands of years.
The Terracotta Warriors: a little bit of early history
Long before China was a united country, and the lands were known as Warring States, the first emperor, Qin Shihuang Di, ruled the area’s first big empire. With ambitions of conquering other Warring States, the Qin Empire managed to bring all other parts of the previous Zhou Empire under its control.
Born in 259 BC, Qin Shihuang Di was a man who knew little but war and conquest. Hungry for power, the first emperor wished to maintain control in the afterlife, and thus ordered a huge stone army to be built and buried with him to serve him after his death. It was believed that inanimate objects could be given life after a person died, and the emperor wanted to make sure that he was buried well prepared for battle.
Life-size soldiers and horses were cast from terracotta, each with individual features and originally painted with bright colours. Wooden chariots and weapons were also buried with the emperor and his army. Hidden under the earth, the terracotta warriors stood to attention waiting to serve their master, unknown to the rest of the world, for more than 2,200 years.
The Terracotta Warriors: a chance discovery
The lands near Mount Li, Shanxi Province, are fertile with underground water sources aplenty. And so it came to pass that, in March 1974, local farmers who were digging a well made one of the biggest archaeological discoveries of the 20th century. Word spread of the terracotta figures that had been found deep in the ground, and archaeologists investigated further, uncovering more and more remains of what was once Qin Shihuang Di’s stone army.
To date, four pits containing soldiers have been excavated, revealing thousands of what are now known as the Terracotta Warriors. Other pits that make up the larger necropolis complex were found to contain diverse bronze and terracotta figures, including acrobats, workmen, and animals, as well as objects such as suits of armour, weapons, and burial grounds.
The Terracotta Warriors today
The 230-metre-long (755-foot-long) Pit One is the main area of interest for most visitors, home to around 6,000 warriors. The soldiers of different ranks stand in formation along 11 wide corridors. You’ll notice that the clothing, hairstyles, poses, and weapons are different, showing the various military rank and role of each warrior. Look closely and you’ll see that each statue’s face has slightly different features. Some people say that the statues’ faces were modeled after the artisans who crafted them, although nobody knows how true this actually is.
Don’t expect to be able to roam freely amongst the reconstructed army; visitors must view the statues from a raised platform that runs around the edges of the pit. The excavated area has now been covered with a shelter, turning it into a museum and protecting the ancient figures. If you go expecting to see terracotta statues in a field, you’ll be disappointed! It is still, however, incredible to think about how this enormous collection of stone soldiers as meticulously crafted, buried in the ground, and undiscovered for so many years. Rather dark, a top tip is to try turning off the flash on your camera when taking pictures; you’ll probably find that the image is much clearer.
Also, don’t expect each soldier to be in pristine condition; some have missing limbs, some have no heads, and others have cracks and holes. This is, however, to be expected from things that have been in the ground for more than two millennia!
Pit Two contains horses and chariots, clearly showing that this was where the emperor wanted his cavalry to be placed. Infantry soldiers can also be found here. Pit Three houses the command centre of the army, with high-ranking officials, and Pit Four (outside of the museum area) contains nothing.
Some items have been removed from the excavation sites and placed in glass display cases in a museum, allowing visitors to take a closer look. There are figures that have been repainted so as to show what they would have originally looked like, as well as those that have been painstakingly restored from fragments. You can also see an extensive collection of weapons, including some that are thought to have actually been used in battle prior to being buried. There are swords, shields, spears, bows and arrows, axes, and more.
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Practical information for visiting the Terracotta Warriors
Admission to the Emperor Qin Shihuang Mausoleum Site Park, where you will find the Qin Tomb Terracotta Warriors and Horses, costs 150 CNY (approximately 22.60 USD) from March to November, and 120 CNY (approximately 18.10 USD) during the other months. Although information is available in both Chinese and English, hiring a guide for around 100 CNY (approximately 15.10 USD) is really recommended, especially if you have a strong interest in history.
The site is open from 8.30 am, closing at 5 pm between mid-March and mid-November, and at 4.30 pm between mid-November and mid-March. You should plan to spend around three to four hours enjoying the Terracotta Warriors.
Other attractions in and around Xi’an include the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda, the old city walls, Xi’an’s Drum Tower and Bell Tower, Stele Forest, and a number of sacred religious sites.
A top attraction for travellers from all over the world, don’t miss visiting the interesting and impressive Terracotta Warriors when in China’s Xi’an.
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