The Terracotta Army isn't just Silk Road tour Xī'ān's premier site, but one of the most famous archaeological finds in the world. This subterranean life-size army of thousands has silently stood guard over the soul of China's first unifier for over two millennia. Either Qin Shi Huang was terrified of the vanquished spirits awaiting him in the afterlife, or, as most archaeologists believe, he expected his rule to continue in death as it had in life – whatever the case, the guardians of his tomb today offer some of the greatest insights we have into the world of ancient China.
The discovery of the army of warriors was entirely fortuitous. In 1974, peasants drilling a well uncovered an underground vault that eventually yielded thousands of terracotta soldiers and horses in battle formation. Over the years the site became so famous that many of its unusual attributes are now well known, in particular the fact that no two soldier's faces are alike.
To really appreciate a Xian trip here, it helps to understand the historical context of the warriors. If you don't want to employ a guide (Y100) or use the audioguide (Y40), the on-site theatre gives a useful primer on how the figures were sculpted. Then visit the site in reverse, which enables you to build up to the most impressive pit for a fitting finale.
Start with the smallest pit Xian tour packages, Pit 3 , containing 72 warriors and horses, which is believed to be the army headquarters due to the number of high-ranking officers unearthed here. It's interesting to note that the northern room would have been used to make sacrificial offerings before battle. In the next pit, Pit 2 , containing around 1300 warriors and horses, which is still being excavated, you get to examine five of the soldiers up close: a kneeling archer, a standing archer, a cavalryman and his horse, a mid-ranking officer and a general. The level of detail is extraordinary: the expressions, hairstyles, armour and even the tread on the footwear are all unique.
The largest pit, Pit 1 , is the most imposing. Housed in a building the size of an aircraft hangar, it is believed to contain 6000 warriors (only 2000 are on display) and horses, all facing east and ready for battle. The vanguard of three rows of archers (both crossbow and longbow) is followed by the main force of soldiers, who originally held spears, swords, dagger-axes and other long-shaft weapons. The infantry were accompanied by 35 chariots, though these, made of wood, have long since disintegrated.
Almost as extraordinary as the soldiers is a pair of bronze chariots and horses unearthed just 20m west of the Tomb of Qin Shi Huang. These are now on display, together with some of the original weaponry, in a small museum to the right of the main entrance.
The Army of Terracotta Warriors Xian attractions is easily reached by public bus. From the car park at Xī'ān train station, take one of the green Terracotta Warriors minibuses (Y7, one hour) or bus 306 (Y7, one hour), both of which travel via Huáqīng Hot Springs and the Tomb of Qin Shi Huang. The car park for all vehicles is a good 15-minute walk from the Terracotta Warriors site. Electric carts do the run for Y5. If you want to eat here, go for the restaurants across from the car park.
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