Terracotta Army in Xian in China

Terracotta Army – Protecting China’s First Emperor

This post was last updated on April 20th, 2020 at 12:12 pm


The Terracotta Army is one of the most important sights in China. It is not only the main attraction of Xi’an; it is one of the most famous archaeological finds in the world. This underground life-sized army of thousands of soldiers has been watching over the soul of China’s first emperor for more than two millennia.

 

TIP – From March to November, the entrance fee is 150 Chinese Yuan (US$21.25). From December to February the entrance fee is 120 Chinese Yuan (US$17).

 

The Story Behind the Terracotta Army

The Terracotta Army is an archaeological find of 9,099 stone soldiers that served as a “gift” for the tomb of the first Chinese Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi who ruled China from 221 to 214 BC. The army is located near the city of Xi’an. The Terracotta Army is an interesting spectacle, but the story behind it is just as bizarre. An estimated 700,000 workers were employed in the construction of his mausoleum. (Interesting fact; this is twice as much as for the Great Wall of China.)

 

At the end of the construction, they were buried alive, so that all secrets went into the (mass) grave. The mausoleum is located under a burial mound and must be the size of a huge palace because the whole area covers more than 2.5 square kilometers. The tomb in which Emperor Qin eventually came to lie is an underground representation of the universe.

 

The emperor believed that his grave was “the Palace of Eternity” and that his life would continue underground.

 

The Terracotta Army consists of foot soldiers, crossbowmen, chariot riders, and horses, and is placed in six-meter deep trenches. Some soldiers wear armor and others wear uniforms. They are between 1.60 and 1.80 meters tall and the most special thing of all is that they are all unique. No statue is the same and the weapons they carry are real and still razor-sharp.

 

It is said that the warriors are all based on real people because every face has a different expression. Warriors with better headgear have a higher rank. It seems that the warriors are positioned so that they are ready for a possible attack.

 

Lines of stone soldiers on an archeological site

It is really incredible how many soldiers they found underground

 

Yet there’s still an unanswered mystery that remains, the tomb of Emperor Qin has never been opened. It is said that with current techniques it is still difficult to open this ancient burial mound without damaging it.

 

The grave is covered with earth and no one knows exactly where the entrance is, so it has not been exposed either. Historical records only indicate that it must be a gigantic grave with several palaces and pavilions, full of rare treasures. These documents also say that the ceiling is studded with pearls to imitate the sun, stars, and moon. The floor is said to be covered with bronze to keep the water out.

 

However, the same historical documents also say that for every entrance to the grave, automatic crossbows are installed, which go off as soon as the doors are opened… Well, it seems like they thought of everything a few centuries ago!

 

Scientists have confirmed that there is a huge bronze-protected space the size of a football field inside the pyramid, which may prove to be an even greater archaeological find in the future than the Terracotta Army itself.

 

In addition to the military itself, numerous smaller quarries have also been found with terracotta statues of civil servants, workers, acrobats, musicians, and even animals, all intended to accompany the emperor in the afterlife.

 

Stone horses in the Terracotta Army
Some of the stone horses in the Terracotta Army

 

Our Experience at the Terracotta army

When we visited the Terracotta Army in 2013, we had just been traveling in China for a few weeks. China was our second destination in Asia. So when we arrived in the capital of China, Beijing, our shock was great. Where did we end up?

 

Fortunately, despite the smoke and chaos, Beijing is a very nice city. We marveled at the Great Wall of China, the Forbidden City, and visited the Square of Heavenly Peace.

 

The next stop on our schedule was Xi’an. Not because the city had a great appeal to us, but because we had read a lot about the archaeological discovery that had been made in the area. An entire army of stone men had been excavated that was once made on behalf of the Emperor. That had to be spectacular.

 

The Tour

We booked a tour from our hostel in Xi’an. We saw a lot that day and really laughed a lot, but that was because the company of the tour was very nice. We were picked up from the hostel by minivan and, after a few tourist stops (souvenir shops), drove to where the Terracotta Army is located.

 

Although it was very different from what we expected, we were still impressed. Personally, we thought you would end up in an open area and be allowed to look around there. Unfortunately, that is not the case. The huge site has been completely converted to receive tourists. That makes it a bit less impressive, but if you know the story and walk around, it is very special.

 

The Terracotta army, and the associated tomb, were bizarre to behold. The tomb once again had a great view of a mountain landscape and the many soldiers were impressive to see. We also saw the farmer who discovered the first stone soldier, and thus the discoverer of the Terracotta army. This man is now a local hero.

 

At the end of the day, we were safely brought home again. Although the tour was quite touristy, visiting the Terracotta army has been a highlight of our trip through China.

 

Terracotta Army stone soldiers with slightly different facial details
All their faces have slightly different details

 

Visitor Tips

We recommend that you arrive early so that you are there before the big tour groups arrive. If that is not possible, visit the Terracotta Army around noon when other visitors leave for lunch.

 

There are just a few good English signs. There are audio guides for rent (40 Chinese Yuan with a 200 Yuan deposit), but the English voice is hard to understand. A guide is, therefore, a better choice if you wish to learn more.

 

Discovery

The Terracotta Army was discovered by a farmer on March 29, 1974. He is a local hero nowadays.

 

This was the greatest archaeological find of the 20th century.

 

The Pits

The stone soldiers, the Terracotta Army, are five kilometers (3.1 miles) from the tomb. There are five large pits where the soldiers are placed. Today, halls have been built above the pits for protection.

 

The Terracotta Army shows how powerful Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi was. It took a lot of work and a lot of professional knowledge and skill.

 

TIP – There are 5 pits. Pit 1 is the largest and most impressive with 2,000 stone soldiers.

 

How to Get to the Terracotta Army

The Terracotta Army is one of China’s most important sights. They have made it easy to reach. Most people visit this place from Xi’an.

 

In Xi’an, you can take one of the electric Terracotta Warriors minivans to the park at the Xi’an Train Station. This costs 8 Chinese Yuan (US$1.15) and takes an hour. You can also take the local bus. This is just as expensive and takes just as long. They will drop you off at the parking lot. From there it is a 15-minute walk to the entrance. Or you can take the train for 5 Chinese Yuan (US$0.70). You can also book organized tours in Xi’an.

 

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