And it’s off to the warriors today, one of the things I most wanted to come for. Well worth the hassle of the 306 bus! We arrived at the railway station to find an enormous snaking queue right across the forecourt – all Chinese stations seem to have huge forecourts full or people waiting, or watching, though not clear for what or whom – but with a bus every four minutes we didn’t have to wait too long, and the one hour journey is interesting, passing hot springs popular with Chinese tourists. Still the mist/smog everywhere, though, and the mountains that back this area were almost invisible. Like the pandas, the warriors are provided with an immaculate park leading up to the site, although you have to pass through a chicken run of traders selling resin models first. The Terracotta Army was discovered by accident about a kilometre from the first emperor’s mausoleum, a rammed earth pyramid that still dominates the area, although less than half the height it was when built. There are written records of the contents of the mausoleum itself (amazingly, given that it was built before 200BC), but no-one knew about the warriors. Then farmers digging a well in the 1970s unearthed one of them by accident, and the archaeological work has been going on ever since.
The main dig is covered by an arched single span roof bigger than those vast airports. A large proportion of the figures has now been restored and placed back in their original positions. They were all lined up in defensive battle formation, ready to defend their emperor against any opposing army of the spirit world.
Elsewhere on the site, other amazing finds have been made from separate pits – groups of acrobats, two huge bronze and gold chariots, ponds full of geese and cranes, and so on – but much of the site remain to be excavated.
The warriors themselves are complete in every detail, each with a different face and hair style, supposedly modeled on the real soldiers: and the effect certainly is realistic, down to the fingernails and hair of each individual. The emperor’s Qin ancestors had had their household killed and buried with them when they died. Religious orthodoxy having moved on and accepted clay substitutes for corpses, Qin Shihuang’s army must have been much relieved. These terracotta soldiers are full scale, in fact tall by modern Chinese standards. (Later at the Shannxi Museum we saw mausoleum armies of later Tang warriors at much reduced scale, and, by the Ming period, reduced still further to mere table ornament size – no longer warriors but armies of pot bellied mandarins in flowing robes.
With the Qin warriors are many full scale horses pulling chariots, also beautifully lifelike. There are pikemen, archers, charioteers, all battle ready, and led by their officers and generals – thousands filling the hall. You enter from a darkened space to look out over this vast array, several metres below ground level, and it really is a magnificent site, even with all the hype and excpectation. Even with thousands of visitors, the building can cope comfortably and everyone gets a good view. You can also see areas at various stages of restoration, from the smashed remnants lying as uncovered, through groups being painstakingly put together, to the final completed platoons all in their original places. They must have looked even more impressive new, as they were fully painted in natural colours.
Though you cannot get close to the warriors in situ, some are displayed in a museum on site and in Xi’an’s Shaanxi Museum, where you can really marvel at the realistic detail, produced 2200 years ago.