If you missed Part 1 you can view it here.
Day two in Xi’an and the Shaanxi Province promised to be a rewarding one with a trip to the world-famous Terracotta Warriors on the cards for the afternoon. Before then, however, Dad and I happily rose from our uncomfortably hard beds, filled the tank with a solid breakfast from the hotel’s buffet offering, met Andrew (our guide) in the hotel lobby and headed off in more crazy traffic for the Xi’an Museum.
Set amongst beautifully landscaped gardens and lakes, the Museum was a modern and impressive building that we waited a half hour or so to open before we could enter and start exploring a great deal more artifacts and historically important treasures from years dating back to 200BC and beyond.
Lighting levels throughout the museum were pretty low in order to preserve the exhibits on show and flash photography was prohibited (Dad found out the hard way), so it was pretty much left to me and my trusty Canon 7D to collect a few shots here and there to share with you all.
As with most other days on our China tour, a VIP experience awaited us beyond the areas accessible to the general public and it wasn’t long before Andrew led us off to a back area in the basement of the Museum, behind electronically controlled security doors, where we eventually entered a room consisting of two official looking blokes, a standard office metallic cabinet and a large table covered in a sheet of red velvet and several pairs of small white gloves.
Show and tell time – sweet!
Our Xi’an Museum “white glove experience” allowed us to get that much closer to the kinds of artifacts that we had been marveling over throughout the past couple of days. One-by-one we were introduced to and allowed to explore in our hands, a number of ridiculously old relics presented to us by a softly spoken Museum staffer. Andrew’s translatory expertise really came into play here as we pawed a number of items including a ritual urn, a bronze drinking cup, a couple of ornate mirrors, and a tray of 8 x 250gm solid gold circular, roughly finished ingots.
The need for a security guard in our presence was more than understandable as the items we were fortunate enough to be holding were beyond priceless in the eyes of the Museum and I would assume the Chinese public at large. Again, photography was limited to one shot only, and Andrew did a good job of snapping a fairly descriptive frame for us to use to remember the experience (below).
Another half hour to an hour spent exploring the remaining sections of the Museum and it was time to exit and head out of town for the blue ribbon exhibit for the day – the Terracotta Warriors.
Reproduction Terracotta Warrior Factory
Along the way out to the Terracotta Warrior Museum, we made a quick “shopping opportunity” stop at a slick reproduction factory where we had the chance to take some cheesy warrior photos, get a tour of the processes involved in moulding, firing and finishing the various sized warrior replicas and, once again, find ourselves dumped in a maze of showrooms featuring lacquer ware, terracotta warriors in various forms, silk rugs, jade sculpture and ornaments and more.
Escaping with just a couple of quick purchases, we were back on the road headed for our final destination for the day.
Terracotta Warrior Tour
About an hours drive away along what appeared to be a fairly purpose-built freeway through market garden areas, we arrived at the Terracotta Warrior site. The endless vege plots we passed along the way gave way to a huge complex with acres of paved parking for the endless line-up of tourist coaches. Considering the cultural and historical significance of the site (I’ll try to cover that below), the masses of humanity were to be expected. It’s not like we weren’t getting used to being herded, pushed and shoved around already! Tour leaders headed every which way with their flags held high, followed by their faithful charges and we just went with the flow.
Now, those of you who aren’t familiar with this hand-crafted army of pottery are probably wondering what all the hullabaloo is? Well let me try and shed some light on the whole situation for you.
In 246 BC a young 13 year old fella by the name of Qin Shi Huang ascended to the throne of the state of Qin. By the age of 38 Qin Shi Huang had conquered the six neighboring states to unify China for the first time and cemented his position as China’s first Emperor.
Remembered and admired for, amongst others, his achievements in bringing seven states together to form a nation, standardising a common script and establishing uniform measurement and monetary systems, he was also reviled for the brutality associated with his extravagant personal projects.
From the time he became King, Qin Shi Huang set about constructing his own tomb (or mausoleum) which took 11 years to complete and sacrificed the lives of 700,000 forced labourers in the process. As part of this tomb preparation, an estimated 8,000 strong army of Terracotta Warriors, horses, chariots and other impressive items were buried around the tomb to defend the Emperor in the afterlife.
In 1974 a group of peasant farmers uncovered some pottery while digging a well in the area that is now a well established museum. The find was of great interest to archeologists who flocked to the site in great numbers with the intention of extending the digs which have so far resulted in a total of 5 pits being uncovered and worked on.
Pits 1, 2 and 3 have so far been opened to the public, together creating a museum space that covers an area of 16,300 square meters.
With all this in mind, there’s little wonder then as to why the Terracotta Warriors and Horses are considered the most significant archeological excavations of the 20th century and why the area was listed in 1987 as a UNESCO world cultural heritage site.
Archeologists can still be seen actively working on the excavation site like in the picture below which I shot towards the back right hand corner of Pit #1.
About 200 meters northeast of the massive Pit #1 is the smaller Pit #2 which was found in 1976, excavated and opened up to the public in 1994. It contained over a thousand warriors and 90 wooden chariots, and today gives visitors a good view of a number of warriors and horses.
Rounding off the museum tour, you arrive at a modern building where, in a typical showroom layout, you can get up close and view, behind large glass cabinets, some of the more complete warriors, chariots and other artifacts that have been excavated from the various pits. Impressive, but certainly not as impressive as the up close and personal introduction we had received at the Shaanxi Archeological Research Institute the day earlier.
Our absolute final tour and private VIP experience for the day was Pit #5 – the most recently discovered and excavated pit. Unexpectedly, the site was a good 5 minute drive away from the existing Terracotta Warrior Museum. In the literature given to us by Cathay Pacific prior to our departure, Pit #5 was described as follows:
Take a tour of this famous underground works site that is typically closed to the public. Here you’ll have the exclusive opportunity to see an armor of a Terracotta soldier that has been buried for over 2000 years. As it lays now, this armor is still in the ground as originally discovered.
What we experienced and found was… well… somewhat different. I’m going to regurgitate Dad’s recollective notes of the visit simply because I think he summed it up pretty well.
A short drive through the market gardens brought us to a narrow dirt track too rough for the car so we walked about 1km through rural settings to an ordinary looking old shed. It appeared we weren’t really expected. There were phone calls back and forth before we were granted entry. Inside the gloomy shed was a big hole in the ground with some plastic sheeting covering whatever lay in the bottom. Somewhat of an anticlimax after the amazing and impressive site already seen.
Haha! After all the build up to what we thought was going to be one final, special, private experience, we were met with a pit that had been covered up and, as we found out from one of our reluctant site hosts, was due to be completely closed in the coming weeks. Hmmm…
Considering what we had already seen throughout the day, however, we were certainly not about to argue with the last little hiccup. Instead we piled back into the car and made our way back to Xi’an Airport where we bid Andrew a farewell and boarded a quick 1 hour flight to Chengdu – China’s panda capital!