China Tour Day 6: Terracotta Army

The second Chinese UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site (when considered in chronological order) is the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor, most commonly referred to as the Terracotta Army. It’s one of most well known tourist spots in China and I was eager to see it for myself and learn about the story behind it.

Thursday 8th August 2013

Unfortunately woke up feeling just as ill if not worse than yesterday. Luckily we weren’t leaving early so I spent all morning lying on the sofa in my hotel room feeling like I was going to die. However, the various drugs I had taken that morning including immodium, paracetamol, rehydration sachets as well as several bottles of water/sprite eventually began to work and my body felt a little less like it was going to shut down at any moment. My room mate helped me pack my things as then we were off!

We were off to see the Terracotta Army which was composed of about 8000 figures in an area about 7 x 8 km. This made it the largest tomb in the world, made for the first emperor of China. Xi’an was the capital of China at the time and remained that way for 13 dynasties. The reason it is thought that the army was built is for protection in the after life but it may also have been simply to keep the peasants busy to prevent a revolt. The emperor of that time sounded like a bit of an odd character because although he had tried to unite China he had also killed his own wife!

The Terracotta Army was found by chance by a farmer who was digging a well. This farmer is still alive today and works in the museum gift shop signing the official guide book which I purchased for my Grandad. The signature inside is actually quite impressive as it is written in Chinese characters.

When the Terracotta Army, including both warriors and horses, was found they were originally in colour but quickly faded on exposure to the air. Archaeologists are still unable to find a way to avoid this. This is one of the reasons why they have decided not to excavate any further. You can however see in the museum and the guidebook what the colours would have looked like. Very stunning – it would have been quite spectacular when it was originally created.

Another astonishing fact was that when discovered the roof had collapsed in and therefore the army was found in pieces. Not one piece was found 100% intact. As a result, the whole army that you see today has been painstakingly reconstructed using a form of glue to put them back together. Our excellent local guide Jerry explained some of the differences in the pieces we were seeing. One was the knot in the hair of the figures. If the knot was on the right then this depicted a member of the infantry. However, if the knot was on the left, the person was an archer. This is because the archer pulled out the arrows on the right hand side and the knot would have got in the way. Quite clever really and excellent attention to detail. We also found out that the actual centre of the tomb was 2 km away and it was thought the rest of the army fanned out from this point with the most impressive pieces closest to the tomb itself.

By now I was feeling a little delicate but like I could eat something as long as it was plain and didn’t resemble Chinese food. My leaflet on rehydrating said to eat carbohydrates so I headed to Dico’s (the Chinese equivalent of a burger joint) and brought plain fries and a pepsi. This sorted me right out – I started to feel human again!! There was this Chinese man collecting empty plastic bottles (quite common everywhere you go). He was confused when I finished a bottle of water which he came to try and collect but I tried to explain that I needed it and then poured my dispensed pepsi into it so I could take it with me. He was so confused – I hope he didn’t think I did it just so he couldn’t have the bottle. It can be very difficult at times with the language being so different.

We went to a family home for lunch. They would have originally been local farmers but now the museum had taken over their livelihood. One member of each disrupted farming family was given a job in the museum. The rest often made money by opening up their homes to tourists to provide food. I only had plain rice but the food did look lovely. Also, because it was their actual home, when I used the toilet they had Colgate and Head and Shoulders just like being back in the UK!

Following this trip we headed back to Xi’an station. One of our group had his wallet taken from his bag (but luckily I have a padlock on my bag) but he only had a few English pounds in that one so it could have been a lot worse. Feeling not too bad so I brought bananas – reasoning that these would be a pretty safe choice. The train was really just the same as the last one and not a shock as we had done it all before. We started to play cards – first Whist and then Hearts. Although called “Hearts” the worse card to get is the Queen of Spades also known as the Queen of Sheba (apparently). It was quite funny because Georgie seemed to win it everytime so she had the nickname of the Queen of Sheba. David was most put out when he lost on a “four of diamonds” – it is usually a pretty safe bet to play a low card but not in this case!!

It was quite a jerky train compared to the last much smoother ride. I was a little worried I might fall out of the top bunk as we were rocked violently to sleep on our way to Chengdu.

Photos from The Terracotta Army – Day 6



This tour is a 20 day tour provided by Exodus and you can click on the China link in the menu to read more about my adventure. If you are interested in or already booked on this trip and would like to know more than please feel free to contact me directly.

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