February 5, 2012 1 Comment
Built for the first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang, in the 3rd Century BC, the Terracotta Warriors, near to the city of Xian, were erected to protect his tomb in the after-life. The hundreds of life-size statues stand according to their military status, each one unique and individually crafted – down to their hair-style and facial features.
Terracotta Warriors of Xi’an, China
It was raining non-stop for two days when we arrived in Xian, so we were happy to be in the undercover buildings housing the Terracotta Warriors for a day. We took the public bus from the main bus station in Xian, which snakes out through the city suburbs before dropping you a good 10 minute walk away from the tourist entrance.
There are thought to be over 8000 warriors in total and you get to see their exquisite detail at close range in the glass cabinets. On display are all forms of warriors complete with armoury and weapons, standing in combat poses. There is also a bronze chariot and horses, which you have to push your way through the hordes of tourists to catch a glimpse of.
Pick a Pit
The site is split into 3 pits and it is advised to see the pits in reverse order so that you save the most spectacular until last. We didn’t. There were very few signposts pointing the way for you and no signs in front of any of the buildings, so we were unsure which pit was which. We picked a building and went in. It was Pit 1 (the one you’re supposed to save for last).
Pit 1 is enclosed in a huge aircraft-hanger type building. It’s enormous. After cutting our way through the hundreds of other tourists – all blindly herding along in their tour groups, not caring or minding for anyone else along the way – we were treated with the spectacular view of hundreds of terracotta soldiers standing to attention, facing eastwards.
The darker and less excavated Pits 2 & 3 provide an insight into what the site must have looked like before the warriors were uncovered. The warriors here are mostly damaged, some headless, but others still have their original colour, giving a glimpse of how resplendent the warriors would have looked when they were built centuries ago.
Xian is a massive, contemporary city but with its ancient roots still firmly in place. The impressive city walls are 12 metres high and 14 km in circumference, encircling the hectic and vibrant centre. A ride on a bicycle on top of the walls is a must-do – you can pick up and drop off the bikes at each of the four sides of the wall but if you’re fit enough you should make it all the way round! They helpfully rent out the bikes to you with just enough time to rush around. The views are great and you really see the enormity of the whole city and the clash of modern vs historic.
More things to do in Xian
- Other great sites in Xian are the Bell Tower and the Drum Tower, built during the Ming dynasty, standing in the heart of the city centre. Years ago, the bell from the Bell Tower would be struck at dawn to signify the beginning of a new day and the drum in the Drum Tower would be struck at sunset, for the end of the day. Both buildings are very impressive and house a collection of ancient bells and drums spanning several dynasties.
- There are several impressive market areas in Xian, including the Muslim Quarter, which is a maze of small lanes and alleyways, all full of an array of Chinese souvenirs – it’s fairly touristy, but you still feel the gifts are authentic and well made. We stocked up on chop-stick sets in pretty wooden cases and beautiful silk table runners.
- We also bought some paintings on Art Street and some delicious dim-sum (20 pieces for about £1!) in the Muslim Quarter. It’s lovely to wander around the different areas and soak up the atmosphere even if you’re not looking to buy anything.
- There are also a huge number of modern, gigantic malls which house all the usual designer names you would expect in a shopping centre anywhere in the world.
Given that the terracotta warriors – one of the most popular tourist attractions in China – is near Xi’an it is still not that simple for a tourist to visit. Hardly any shop keeper, restaurant waitress, bus driver, market stall owner or hotel staff can speak English. It makes being understood difficult. However, we still had an amazing time there enjoying all the contemporary conveniences and ancient spectacles on offer.
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