The Terracotta Army of warriors and horses is one of the greatest archaeological excavations of the 20th century. It is a collection of life-size terracotta sculptures of soldiers, horses and chariots, representing the armies of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China. The figures of the Terracotta Army estimated as more than 8000 warriors, 150 horse regiment and 130 chariots with 520 horses were buried in the three pits nearby the Emperor Qin Shi Hunag’s mausoleum, in the third century BC, and were discovered by local villagers of Xian in 1974, after more than 2200 years.

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Location

The archaeological site of Terracotta Army is located about 1.5 kilometers east of the Mausoleum of Qin Shi Huang, in Lintong District, Xian. Xian, the capital of Shaanxi Province, is located in the central region of China in the Asian continent.

History

The first Emperor Qin Shi Huang, from whom China got its name, started work on his mausoleum soon after he ascended the throne at the age of 13, in 246 BC.  The favoured site chosen to construct his burial place was at the foot of Mount Li.  Involving the hard work of 700,000 workers from every province of the empire, an underground city was constructed within an enormous mound.  This concealed architectural wonder was an exact model of the palace and the empire and its vast treasures were protected by automatically activated weapons designed to keep off robbers.

After his death, the Emperor Qin Shi Huang was buried with his palaces, treasures and the sculptures of the army. It was believed that all the valuables and treasures would accompany him after his death and the statues would be animated in the afterlife when the emperor required an after-death army to protect him.

In 1974 a group of local villagers, while digging wells near the emperor’s tomb, uncovered some fragments of the terracotta warriors and some bronze weapons. This caught attention of the archeologists and a full-scale excavation was carried out in four pits located approximately 1.5 kilometres east of the Qin Shi Hunag’s mausoleum.  It was established that the sculptures were associated with the Qin Dynasty of 2200 years ago. The terracotta army consisting thousands of soldiers, chariots and horses of were found buried in the three pits and the fourth pit was found empty. Several pits surrounding the tomb mound have been excavated which contain different figures such as officers, acrobats, musicians, strongmen, laborers, stone armour suits, rare animals bronze cranes and ducks.

Attractions

The mausoleum of Qin Shi Huang is a unique architectural unit, the largest preserved site in the Chinese history. To protect the terracotta sculptures uncovered from the pits nearby the tomb mound, a museum was constructed on the site in 1975. On completion, the museum of the terracotta warriors and horses became one of the greatest attractions of the visitors all over the world.The Museum of the Terracotta Army and the Qin Shi Huang Mausoleum have now been combined into one large area of tourist attraction, called ‘Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s Mausoleum Site Park’. The Terracotta army is listed as a UNESCO world Heritage Site and is now regarded as the eighth wonder of the world.

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The museum covering an area of 16,300 square meters consists of mainly three pits and the Exhibition hall of bronze chariots. Life-size terracotta sculptures of the warriors and horses arranged in battle formations are the great attractions in the museum.  

Pit No.1:  Discovered by the local villagers in 1974, it is the largest pit with 230 meters long and 62 meters wide and contains the main army of more than 6000 terracotta statues of soldiers and horses. It has 11 corridor paved with bricks and is provided with a wooden ceiling. It was first opened to public in 1979. It is now completely enclosed inside the museum at the site.

Pit No. 2:  Discovered in 1976, it is 20 meters north-east of Pit No. 1. It contains more than 1500 soldiers and 90 chariots. It represents four units of different battle formations: kneeling and standing archers; a chariot cavalry array; a chariot war array; and a cavalry division with weapons. It was opened to the public in 1994.

Pit No. 3:  Discovered in 1976, it is 25 meters north-west of Pit No.1. It appears to be the command center of the armed forces. It contains 68 officers and dignitaries of higher ranking, a war chariot and four horses. It was displayed to the public in 1989.

Bronze Chariots: Two bronze chariots are displayed in the exhibition hall, which were discovered in 1980. Each of these carriages consists of 3400 parts and is driven by four horses. Each weighs 1234 kg, mainly made of bronze, but includes 1720 pieces of golden and silver ornaments weighing 7 kg on each chariot.  

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Assembly line production: Different parts such as the heads, torsos, arms and legs of the terracotta army figures were produced separately and then assembled to form the life-size unit. Different face moulds were used to create different features of face. It is understood that assembly line manufacturing techniques with high quality control were followed 2200 years ago to produce life-size terracotta army.

Variety: The terracotta sculptures of the warriors are of life-size, and vary in height, uniform and hairstyle, as per their rank. Their height varies with their positions, the tallest being the generals. Facial features and expressions differ and provide a clear picture of the military and cultural history of that period. The figures were painted with different colours to give them realistic effect.

Weapons: Different weapons were found in the pits, including swords, spears, crossbows, battle-axe, arrow heads and shields. The swords have sharp edge, with chromium dioxide coating that kept it rust-free for 2200 years. Manufacturing dates were inscribed on some swords. Studies have revealed that 2200 years ago the people were highly advanced in technology, had high knowledge in chemistry and had used industrial machine tools like lathe and grinding machines.

How to Reach There

Xian Xianyang International Airport is located 40 km northwest of the city centre, in Xianyang. Xian is located in the heart of China, and is well connected by public transport from major Chinese cities. Taxis or the airport bus can be used to reach Xian railway station from the airport; however taking a taxi is not recommended, as most taxi drivers will ask for more fare from tourists. There is a bus every 20 minutes from the airport. From the train station, take tourism bus up to the Terracotta Army.

When to Visit

The site will be fully crowded during the peak season from May to October. Weekends will be more crowded than week days. It is better to avoid the main holidays of China such as National Day (October 1-7), Spring Festival (January/February), and Labor Day (May 1-3).

Conclusion

Over the past several years, discoveries have revealed that the site represents one of the most magnificent archaeological reserves in the world. Thousands of statues of the terracotta army still remain to be discovered from this archeological site. Due to the outstanding technical perfection and the artistical beauty, the terracotta warriors and horses and the bronze chariots remain as the masterpieces in the history of Chinese sculpture.

Image source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terracotta_Army


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