Saturday, May 9, 2015

Museum of the Terracotta Army

World Heritage Sites

I was in college when the first newspaper articles appeared about an extraordinary discovery in central China.   In 1974 some farmers were digging a well outside of Xian, when they unearthed what looked like life-size clay warriors.  Word got out and archaeologists from all over the world poured into China to partake in one of the most astounding digs of the 20th century.  I read everything I could get my hands on and vowed one day to make my way there.

In 2005, my dream came true.  My travel buddy and I took our two sons on a tour of China and spent an entire afternoon at the Museum of the Terracotta Army.  When we are together now, we often reminisce about that day.  Now we can talk about it.  Back then, we were utterly speechless.

You do not enter the first pit until you have watched a movie--a re-enactment of the craftsmanship that went into creating an entire army to protect the first emperor of China,  Qin Shi Huang, after his death in 210 BCE.  Because no two faces are alike, archaeologists speculate that each terracotta soldier was modeled after a real person.  Today, excavations continue.  Evidently Emperor Qin not only decided to take his army with him to the grave, but his musicians, acrobats, concubines and political advisers, as well. They have now located over 600 pits, covering 22 square miles.  It is truly mindblowing!

The movie pointed out that the Qin dynasty did not last long.  The Han took over and orders were given to smash and bury this vast population of statues.  If it weren't for those farmers digging that well, these "statues with souls" (as one of my sons described them) would still be lost today.

The Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor of China was declared a World Heritage Site in 1987.  Back then, only three pits had been unearthed.  Digging was stopped until science could catch up.  They were finding that these statues were brightly painted, but once they were exposed to the air, oxidation turned the paint into rust.  Progress has been made though.  They have now restored several of these guys to their original colorful splendor.  Not only that, but they are discovering that the pits mirror the actual urban complex above ground, including the emperor's palace and the entire city surrounding it.

I still get goose bumps when I look at these photographs.  It's a bit creepy--all these warriors, so lifelike and determined, walking in single file through eternity.  Statues with souls.


  1. Yes, an absolutely mind-blowing place! I was there in the mid-80s and they didn't have the movie, etc. Can you imagine a politician today announcing that everyone s/he knows will be buried with them in a huge pit? I'm sure they wouldn't get elected in the first place. Great photos.

  2. Wonderful photos , I can see why this is such an amazing experience.