One of the most iconic archaeological finds in the world, the site is relatively accessible – located fairly centrally in China, it is only a two hour flight from most of the major cities – and is well worth making the trip for: nothing like this exists anywhere else on earth.
Everyone who visits has a group of local farmers to thank for this unique attraction, because it was they who discovered the 6000 life-size terracotta warriors completely by accident in 1974. While drilling a small well, they hit upon an underground vault which contained the treasures now designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Regarded as the eighth Wonder of the Ancient World, the army’s purpose was to guard the tomb of the first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang, the ruler who ordered the building of the Great Wall.
For those who have just seen the warriors on photos, it might surprise you to hear that they are fully life-size figures – the sheer size of them takes many tourists’ breath away.
The figures are individually modelled in clay, and you can pick out crossbowmen, charioteers, officers and generals amongst the army, which is spread out over a space roughly the size of a football pitch.
The effort that the sculptors must have gone to in order to create these thousands of figures almost makes the mind boggle: the facial expressions, hairstyles, armour and more are all different on each individual.
There is an on-site museum which gives you a great insight into this peculiarity of ancient China, and you can step into the theatre which is also found here at the attraction to watch how the figures were sculpted. Guides will take you around and point out all the most interesting sights, and there is also a less expensive audio guide if you would prefer.
There are three pits, all worth your visit. The first is the largest and the most impressive, filled with soldiers and horses facing east and primed for battle. Pit 2 allows you to examine five of the different warriors at close quarters: a kneeling archer, a standing one and a cavalryman (and also his horse), plus a mid-ranking officer and general.
You’re free to take all the photos you like, as long as you turn off the flash, though you may find nothing captures the imposing rows stretching out in front of you quite like being there! This really is one of those sights that needs to be seen to be believed.
Imperial China is a fascinating era of history, and the fact that the Emperor Qin Shi Huang went to such lengths to protect his peace in the afterlife by installing the army of guards is exemplary of the depth of intrigue that the period holds. To soak it all up in what is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, head to Xi’an!