Last November, we went to see Xi’an’s Army of Terracotta Warriors, a truly incredible experience and one I will never forget. So when friends visiting from the States hinted that they would also like to behold one of China’s most important cultural relics, we jumped at the opportunity for a return visit. It still boggles my mind that this marvelous army was never meant to see the light of day. But thanks to farmer Yang Xinmen and his well, one of the greatest discoveries of the 20th century was made. Had he dug his well 20 feet in the other direction, the army could still be lost to the world! This time around, we had the unusual pleasure of meeting Mr. Yang who was on hand to sign autographs and pose for photos – for a small fee, of course.
The sight of thousands of life-size clay soldiers amassed into a silent army, ready to defend their emperor in the afterlife, was just as awe-inspiring on our second visit, and our friends were duly impressed.
Only a fraction of the estimated 8,000 soldiers have been unearthed and excavations are continuing. It was fascinating to witness the various stages of the process and painstaking reassembly of the fragile figures. I can’t imagine being the person who threw on the last shovel full of soil and walked away, burying them for centuries.
Even though it was pouring rain, we enjoyed dashing between the three pits and examining the opened corridors and the remains of the wood and straw coverings. Each collection served a different purpose, with the largest pit housing infantry and cavalry units and the smaller two ones containing a military guard unit and the commanding officers. A few of the best-preserved warriors are displayed in glass cases next to one of the smaller pits.
An assortment of bronze weaponry, armor and animals were found along with the soldiers in the pits and are displayed in an excellent museum on the premises. Some of the pieces were made using a chrome-plating technology that wouldn’t be used again until it was re-invented for World War II.
To get to this impressive site, we took the marked green tourist bus from the Xi’an train station. The ride takes about an hour and costs 8 RMB (about 1.30 USD). You will be let off beside the highway in front of the tourist village near the entrance to the site. Look for the return bus in the same spot.