Be Awed by the Majestic Displays of Terracotta Army 秦始皇兵马俑 at the Warriors Museum22 November, 2013
The Terracotta Army of Emperor Qin Shihuang 秦始皇兵马俑 is without a doubt one of China’s top attraction – the fact that it is a typical stop for foreign dignitaries e.g. presidents, prime ministers only confirms that it is a must see for all visitors to Xi’an. Former French president, Jacques Chirac, had even described this Terracotta Army mausoleum as the “eighth wonder of the world”. There is even a dedicated expressway created to link Xi’an city to the Lintong district in the Shaanxi province (about 1+ hour drive from Xi’an city). Do note that the museum goes by many names – the official name is 秦始皇帝陵博物院 Emperor Qin Shihuang Mausoleum Site Museum but commonly it is known as Warriors Museum or just simply 兵马俑.
Upon arrival at the drop-off point for tour buses for terracotta warriors tour, cars at the Warriors Museum, you will have to pass by a stretch of souvenir shops before reaching the ticket office. Resist the urge to shop as you will pass by an even longer stretch of souvenir shops and restaurants on your way out. From the ticket office, you will need to walk through some gardens before reaching the museum (expect about a 10-minute walk). You can also choose to pay about RMB 5 for a short ride in a buggy to skip the walk but expect long queues at the buggy station – you will likely reach the Museum faster by walking. Do note that the buggy only does one-way trips so everyone will have to walk out from the museum to the exit when they are done visiting the museum.
The 兵马俑 Warriors Museum covers an area of 16,300 square meters and is divided into three sections: No. 1 Pit, No. 2 Pit, and No. 3 Pit respectively. They were tagged in the order of their discoveries. No. 1 Pit is the largest pit of the three and was first opened to the public on China’s National Day in 1979. There are columns of soldiers at the front, followed by war chariots at the back.
Pit Number 1 – Warriors Museum Terracotta Soldiers 秦始皇兵马俑
Terracotta Army Pit No.1 is an east-west rectangular pit, measuring 252 yards long, 68 yards wide and 16 feet deep. While there are temperature and humidity control in the building housing Pit No. 1, do note that it is still quite hot inside (due to the crowds). It has also the most crowded viewing gallery of the three pits – the good news is that this pit is very very big so you can walk around the pit to take a closer look at the terracotta soldiers. Upon entering the building which showcases Pit No. 1, you will experience how crowded the viewing gallery is because the gallery directly facing the entrance has the best view of all the terracotta soldiers (but is also the furthest from the soldiers so if you want to see the details on the soldiers, you need to walk to the sides). There will literally be a whole bunch of people jostling to get to the railings where they can rest their arms and take pictures or just enjoy the view – some will be enjoying the view a bit too much and will hoard the railing for quite some time – the situation can get quite bad and people do quarrel over that small space. If you see a large tour group going into Pit No. 1, you might want to visit other pits first or just hang around by the side until the group has passed.
From the side, you can get a clearer view of the details on the soldiers. There are over 6,000 terracotta warriors and horses in Pit No. 1, of which 1,000 have been unearthed. They were arranged into a well-organized battle array comprising both infantry and cavalry troops. These pits are located about 1.5 km east of Emperor Qin Shihuang’s burial mound and are about 7 metres deep. The army is placed as if to protect the tomb from the east, where all the Qin Emperor’s conquered states lay.
Some of the figures in the pits showed fire damage and remains of burnt ceiling rafters have also been found. There are also missing weapons and crushed terracotta soldiers. Historians had taken this as evidence of looting by Xiang Yu – one of the contender for the throne after Emperor Qin’s death. When the terracotta warriors were discovered, they were in pieces as shown below due to earthquakes around the area and possibly damage by Xiang Yu’s troops a long time ago.
What was amazing is that all the standing terracotta soldiers we see today in all the pits are reconstructed fragments by fragments, piece by piece by archaeologists working on site! Some of the missing heads you see in the pits today are because they are still trying to piece them together and each of the heads and bodies of the soldiers are unique so this makes the task even more challenging. The weapons that these soldiers are supposed to hold are likely to have been looted by Xiang Yu’s troops or have corroded with time.
The area where the archaeologists worked to piece together each of the terracotta warriors. During low season (winter), you will be able to see most of them hard at work handling each of the fragments carefully and trying to piece them together like a jigsaw puzzle.
Each of the terracotta figures are life-sized. They vary in height, uniform and hairstyle in accordance with rank. Most originally held real weapons such as spears, swords, or crossbows. The figures were also originally painted with bright pigments, variously coloured in pink, red, green, blue, black, brown, white and lilac. The coloured lacquer finish, individual facial features, and actual weapons used in producing these figures created a realistic appearance. Unfortunately, the colour coating has flaked off or greatly faded upon exposure to air. The details captured by the artisans who crafted the terracotta soldiers are amazing and it is very likely each of the soldiers were modelled after soldiers back then – for example, in the picture below, you will be able to see a soldier with a slight belly – that is because he is likely a senior officer who had access to good food and wine, thus explaining the belly!
As can be seen below, when initially recovered, each of the terracotta warriors still had their colors but these colour coating flaked off within hours/days of these soldiers being exposed to air. Thus, the archaeologists are very careful in excavating these soldiers now – explaining why even 30 years after the discovery of the terracotta soldiers, the excavation is still ongoing!
Pit Number 2 – Warriors Museum Terracotta Soldiers 秦始皇兵马俑
Pit Number 2 has cavalry and infantry units as well as war chariots and is thought to represent a military guard. Covering an area of 7,176 square yards, it is L-shaped, measuring 136 yards from east to west, 107 yards from north to south, and sixteen feet deep. Compared to Pit No.1, the combat formations in Pit No.2 are thought to be more complex, and the units of terracotta soldiers and cavalry are more complete. It is estimated there are over 80 war chariots, about 1,300 terra cotta warriors and horses, and thousands of bronze weapons. In this pit, archaeologists had discovered the terracotta general, the kneeling archer and cavalry rider. However, most of the complex military formation in this pit is still buried and will not be excavated until the archaeologists had devised a way to preserve the coloring of the warriors once they are uncovered. Thus, visually from a tourist perspective, Pit Number 1 still has the more impressive display of terracotta warriors – this explains why Pit Number 2 is relatively less crowded.
While there is nothing much to see in the pits here, there is a display of each of the different terracotta warriors that had been unearthed i.e. kneeling archer, cavalry soldier, terracotta general and these displays are always surrounded by crowds because this is the best place for a photo opportunity with the warriors upclose – these warriors are encased in a thick glass case so you might not be able to get a clear shot of them unless you get real close (which is challenging because of the crowds).
Pit Number 3 – Warriors Museum Terracotta Soldiers 秦始皇兵马俑
Pit Number 3 is the command post, with high-ranking officers and a war chariot. Covering an area of 622 square yards, it is actually a component of both Terracotta Warriors Pit 1 and Terracotta Warriors Pit 2. Built in the shape of the Chinese character “凹”, it measures 19.2 yards long from east to west, 23.4 yards wide from north to south and 15.7 feet deep.
Experts have suggested that Pit Number 3 is the command center or headquarters for all the groups of soldiers and cavalry in the other two pits. The unearthed artifacts include 68 terracotta warriors, four horses and one chariot. The experts were puzzled on why they couldn’t find a commander in chief who would be leading all the troops – they guessed that this could be because Emperor Qin was the commander in chief himself and to protect his dignity, no craftsman can make a terracotta warrior of his likeness.
After walking around all 3 pits, if you still have time, you can check out the gift shop of the museum – there are gift shops at the exit of some of the pits – they are worth a look for souvenirs and trinkets such as magnets and postcards but do go for the big gift shop about 3 minutes walk away from the pits.
I think there are signages that point to “Theatre” or “Movie” – that is the same place – within this gift shop, there is a 360 degree IMAX style movie theatre (not exactly IMAX but the concept is something like that but please lower your expectations a lot more!) showing the history of Emperor Qin and the Terracotta Warriors – it is in English but the audio is quite bad (there are subtitles too) and barely audible. The 10-15 minute movie is best viewed in total darkness but what failed it was that there are always people streaming into the theatre and there are no doors; just pull curtains so the theatre will never in complete darkness and this made the movie-viewing experience quite disruptive. Personally, I think the movie is not worth my time watching – if you had a guide while walking around the pits or you had read up about the history of terracotta soldiers, you would have learnt enough.
What’s best about this bigger gift shop at the Warriors Museum is that there are a lot of terracotta army replicas on display – so if you can’t get a nice shot with your favorite terracotta warrior at Pit 2 – you can do so here but do it discreetly and quickly as there are signages that there are charges for taking photos with these display (not strictly enforced unless you are disrupting guests in the gift shop with your photo-taking – after all these terracotta army are displayed for sale!).
Also at this gift shop, you might be able to meet 72-year old Yang Zhifa – one of the farmers who discovered the terracotta warriors’ fragments 35 years ago. They were drilling a well in Xiyang village, Lintong county, 35 km east of Shaanxi’s provincial capital Xi’an. Mr Yang stopped farming 14 years ago to begin a 9-to-5 routine. He now earns a salary of 1,000 yuan ($147) a month from the gift shop for signing books of which he is not the author. If a tourist raises a camera, he uses his pipe to tap the plate in front of him, which reads: “No photo, no video”.
There is actually a lot more that has yet to be discovered in this area – while scientists had identified what they thought to be Emperor Qin’s tomb (see the mound in the picture below), they have not tried to explore it in view of concerns that they might damage it upon exposing it to air 2000 years after it had been sealed. There were also rumours of numerous booby traps and toxic mercury present within the tomb. Thus, while we have visited the Terracotta Army Museum this time round, I think there will be a lot more to see in the future with further excavations of the site. Let’s see what happens 30 years later. 🙂
Getting to Terracotta Army 兵马俑 Warriors Museum
There are many tours run by different tour operators from Xi’an city to the Warriors Museum and you can travel to the Warriors Museum independently by taking a Tourist Line 5 (Bus No. 306) from the East Square of Railway station (it will cost about RMB 7). The bus journey to Terracotta Army 兵马俑 Warriors Museum will take about 40 minutes and the Warriors Museum is the last stop – do check with the bus driver on the correct stop to get off.
Watch Out for Scam Terracotta Army 兵马俑 Warriors Museum Tours
Be mindful of common scams riding on the huge demand to visit the Terracotta Army 兵马俑 Warriors Museum. There will be a lot of touts or seemingly friendly people trying to guide you to their own “Bus No. 306″ at the railway station or offer express bus services – these are likely private tour guides; I advise you to stay away from them or if you really feel up to it, bargain hard and be clear about the destination they are promising to bring you and amount of time you will spend at the Museum (I haven’t tried those services but I would imagine a touch-and-go approach to the Museum and then bring you to some shopping stops or worse bring you to a fake Warriors Museum!).
The Shangri-La Xi’an Indulgence Package Tour to 兵马俑 Warriors Museum
If you want to skip the hassle of bargaining and having to squeeze with other tourists just on the journey to get to the real Warriors Museum, I strongly suggest the tour that comes with the Shangri-La Xi’an Indulgence package. This is a private tour where you will be brought to the Warriors Museum in a Shangri-La hotel limousine (with complimentary Wi-Fi onboard). Our Shangri-La Xian guide, Penny (she is a tour manager based in Shangri-La Xi’an – not an independent tour operator) is a very experienced tour guide in Xi’an and she speaks English very well; if you can understand Mandarin, you will be able to learn a lot more from her as she gives a very good explanation of interesting local Xi’an culture and customs.
The Xi’an Indulgence package (RMB 4,320 for 2 nights) offers:
- Two-night stay in a Deluxe City View Room
- One round-trip airport transfer
- Complimentary daily buffet breakfast for two persons
- Terracotta Army 兵马俑 Warriors Museum and Tang Art Museum admission fees, transportation fees and packed picnic box (reconfirmation on date/time required in advance)
- One complimentary 60-minute SPA treatment per person, per stay at Shangri-La CHI The Spa (maximum 2 persons, advance appointment required)
- Complimentary in-room broadband & Wi-Fi Internet access
- Complimentary in-room tea and coffee-making facilities
- Welcome fruit on the arrival day