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China Travel Guide: The Terracotta Army


  • Travel to China
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  • China

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Often referred to as the Eighth Wonder of the World, the Terracotta Army is one of the most iconic heritage of the ancient world. It gets even more impressive just thinking about the fact that a large part of it is still buried and waiting for our technology to improve and be unearthed. Here are some interesting facts about this incredible monument to China's history.

The terracotta army is part of the funerary treasure of Emperor Qin Shi Huang's Mausoleum. It represents the warriors that were supposed to fight for him in the afterlife after his death in 210 BC. It has been added to the UNESCO world heritage list and has an entrance fee of RMB 150 from March to November, and RMB 120 from December to February.
The site is located quite close to the city of Xi'an (if you have never been there, check our article China Travel Guide: 10 reasons to visit Xi'an) and it can be reached easily by buses leaving every hour from the central station. Just 1.5 Km from Mount Li, an area rich of rivers and natural springs where the burial site with the mound of Qin Emperor is located.
The first soldiers were discovered on March the 29th 1974 by some farmers of the area. The complex built around since then is huge. Apart from an area to buy food or snacks close to the entrance, the outdoor gardens are vast. Different buildings are present on the site, 4 are dedicated to each one of the different pits and one to the museum explaining the history of the site discovery.
Each figure is different from any other and the whole army is not composed only by simple soldiers but includes also archers, knights, chariots. Originally, the site was said to be composed by over 8000 warriors, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 Cavaliers. The construction works began around 246 BC when the Qin Emperor was only 13 years old and was just crowned. 700,000 workers were involved in this massive project. 
The area where the terracotta soldiers have been unearthed so far is just a fraction of the entire site. A large number of statues still remain buried as part of a 98 square kilometres necropolis. The burial site includes many halls and structures. Numerous graves have been found in the area, all more recent if compared to the pyramidal structure where the Emperor's mound is situated.
The tomb itself is still sealed due to concerns regarding the preservation of important artefacts that might be contained in it. The same reason is slowing down the unearthing process of the soldiers. Even though they appear uncoloured today, each warrior was coated with paint that as soon as they were unearthed started fading. Unfortunately, as of today no technology that could properly preserve the paint has been found. 
As mentioned before, 4 pits constitute the army site where the soldiers are organised to protect the Emperor, but only three of these actually contain finds.
The first pit which is the most recognised and contains the largest number of figures is also the oldest. In its corridors that used to be covered for waterproofing contained around 6000 soldiers organised in defence of the emperor. 
This pit displays also some interesting insights on the work that is being conducted by archaeologists as the back area, which is still in covered in major part, is being used as a platform for the restoration of recently unearthed statues.
The second pit instead hosts the cavalry, chariots and infantry units. This one despite being very large is still partly covered. 
Finally, the third pit which is the smallest hosts what is believed to be the Army Staff composed of high-ranking officers and a war chariot. Pit 4 is empty, perhaps left unfinished by its builders.
Inside the buildings of pit 2 and 3 also, some soldiers are displayed within glass cases outside the pit for tourists to be able to take a closer look at them. 
Warriors and appearance
The terracotta warriors are all life-sized. Each one is different from the others in eight and appearance. Also, their hairstyle and clothing change according to their rank. The different army departments include armoured warriors, unarmored infantrymen, horses, cavalrymen, helmeted drivers of chariots with more armour protection, spear-carrying charioteers, archers both standing and kneeling, generals and other officers. Sometimes, uniforms, accessories or other pieces of clothing vary even within the same group or rank of soldiers.
As mentioned before, unfortunately in the statues already unearthed today is not possible anymore to see the colours in which they were painted once. 
They were all built with local materials. Also, heads, torsos and limbs were modelled separately and assembled later on. Faces instead were first crafted from around 10 different models and then modified to obtain a unique appearance. 
As for the soldiers' weapons instead, they were crafted with bronze to add a realism to the army. Despite many of those having rotted away throughout the years, a huge number of metal weapons, swords, spears axes, shields and other objects were found scattered all over the pits. Some sword were treated so finely that remained rust-free up until today.
Recent Exhibitions
On February 9th 2018 has begun an exhibition that for the first time in history has brought the terracotta soldiers to Liverpool and it will last until October 23rd 2018 (visit also for info about the exhibition).
This special exhibition organised by National Museums Liverpool in cooperation with Shaanxi Provincial Cultural Relics Bureau and Shaanxi History Museum covers 1000 years of Chinese history and will include numerous objects and relics from different museums in Shaanxi Province.    
This event is relevant also as it tightens up the friendship links between China and the city of Liverpool, home of the oldest Chinese community in Europe and the relationships to improve travel between China and the UK.



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