After our day of exploring Pingyao and nearby Zhangbi Underground Fortress we hopped a bullet train to Xian, home of the Terra Cotta Warriors. We were tired and gritty (night train, no shower) by the time we arrived at 8PM. But we instantly liked Xian. Our hotel was right in the heart of the action, Bell Tower Square. The Bell Tower itself is quite magnificent, as is the Drum Tower, and they light them both up impressively at night. The entire area has been redesigned with tasteful deference to the replaced, traditional buildings. Modern storefronts of KFC, Starbucks, and McDonalds jockey with Chinese chains, flashy clothing stores, and big department stores. The alley-like lanes between the modern boulevards still retain their aged character. We checked in, showered, and headed out for late dinner. We realized we had arrived on Saturday night and the youthful energy was palpable. We found a memorable “hole in the wall” restaurant, full of locals. One single dog-eared English menu with outdated items and prices – otherwise, nothing but Xianese. But the food was plentiful, excellent, and cheap. The trifecta!
We tried to make an early start of it the following morning, but a groaning breakfast buffet roped us in for a leisurely start. But we eventually headed out for the famed Terra Cotta Warriors (TCW). Certainly one of China’s top 3-4 sights, both Maia and I were looking forward to this visit.
We were not disappointed. A couple of efficient bus rides delivered us to the site about an hour east of the city. The now expected extravaganza of Chinese sight entrances welcomed us upon our arrival. Fountains, statues, conference halls, a theater, the obligatory grandiose entrance gate and countless food stalls represented the gauntlet we were required to navigate to get to the sight. We were again reminded of how lucky we are to have come in late winter as we walked right up to the scores of ticket takers and turnstiles to walk right in, bypassing hundreds of yards of empty, zig-zagging control lanes.
The facility that the Chinese have built to house, preserve, and display the sight nearly outshines the resource itself. Pit One, the largest of the 3 excavated areas is covered by an aircraft hangar sized roof. I marveled at the engineering and at the protection provided. Compared to many developing world destinations, where the “draw” sights are in danger of being loved to death, the Chinese represent a beacon of hope. I guess it is necessary because the visitor numbers are clearly staggering, here and everywhere in China.
I assume most of you know the story of the TCW, since they were discovered in our lifetimes and made big news even at home. Like the Pharoahs of Egypt, the emperors of China wanted protection and company in the afterlife. So guarding the tomb of Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China, is this astounding army of life-sized terra cotta soldiers. There are chariots, horses, generals, foot soldiers, archers, pike-men, and swordsmen, etc.
Estimates go north of 8000 suspected figures in the complex (many “pits” are yet to be excavated). Dating back almost 1700 years, they were discovered by local farmers digging a well in 1974. Pit One is impressive primarily for its tremendous scale.
The “hanger” is huge and the rows upon rows of reassembled soldiers is frankly awesome. Pit Two shows what the pits looked like before archeologists did their magic. Still roofed, this pit displays only a few broken figures. However, in nicely maintained and illuminated cases, they have displayed 5 figures one can observe up close. The detail is remarkable and it is while examining these figures one can really appreciate the well-known fact that no two faces are alike. Wow. Almost hard to believe. Pit Three is the smallest and allows closer inspection of a handful of figures and four horses still in their trenches.
Also on site is a very nice museum which houses 2 bronze chariots and a variety of weapons unearthed in a nearby tomb. Another building houses a 360-degree theater that gives a brief overview of the site's history. There are several important tombs in the area too, but Maia and I were bushed. So after a quick lunch we grabbed a bus back to town for some afternoon shopping and down time. We returned to our favorite local restaurant for dinner and called it a day.