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When three farmers went out to dig a well back in 1974, you can bet your bottom dollar that they weren’t expecting to come across a frozen army of thousands lurking below the earth’s surface. But boy, what a find the Terracotta Army was. In fact, some would even say that it was the best archeological find of the whole 20th century. Now that’s impressive.
Not only a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but considered the honorary eighth wonder of the world, Xian’s star attraction consists of numerous underground vaults that home distinct army ranks moulded from clay, each with unique features and all poised for battle alongside their cavalry horses – that come complete with chariots, obvs. Although originally painted in bright colours, over 2,200 years of standing silent watch has taken its toll. Today, the figures form a mighty mass of dusty grey and one that you wouldn’t mess with, that’s for sure.
“But why are they there?”, we hear you ask. Well, they guard the tomb of the rather superstitious first Emperor of the Qin dynasty, intended to not only serve him in the afterlife but to be an immortal marker of his greatness on earth – if elaborate mausoleums are on your bucket-list, you’re in for a treat with this one. And, to give him his due, Emperor Qin actually was rather great. Ruling from 246 BC until his death in 210 BC, he was a man who unified China and standardised the written language so that it could be understood across the country. But, like many, he had his downfalls and his was that he was a ruthless leader. In fact, many of the 720,000 people who aided the creation of his vision were killed in order to protect the secret location of his tomb. Ouch.
Say hello to one of the greatest insights into ancient China that we have today.
With three viewing vaults on offer, one thing’s for sure: on your trip to see the Terracotta Army you won’t be short on warrior sightings. Vault one alone contains a whopping 2,000 terracotta figures and that’s just those that have been excavated so far. Because it’s thought that a lot of the Terracotta Army’s secrets remain just that: a secret. In fact, archaeologists working on the site believe that a further 6,000 figures are yet to be unearthed in this particular pit. It’s in this vault that the sheer immensity of the underground army really hits home – cameras at the ready because the viewing platforms in here are where you’ll get those money shots.
Over in vault two, you’ll be greeted by a whole array of infantry, readily poised for battle. From kneeling archers to carriage driving warriors, these troops are a force to be reckoned with. And the one thing that they all have in common? The bronze weapons that they wield.
Then there’s vault three, the most compact, but also the most well-preserved, of the three pits. Just 68, high ranking officers can be found here, as this is, of course, the command centre. No details were missed on the construction of this clay army. Here, the warriors are so well preserved that you can even detect some of their original colouring. Stood alongside four horse and a chariot, it makes for quite the ancient parade.
We’re talking a whole lotta history with this one. But even if you don’t consider yourself to be a history buff, the Terracotta Army is a must-see attraction which is exactly why a trip here is included in our Iconic Highlights and Yangtze Discovery base itineraries. Head over to the itinerary builder now to start planning that trip of a lifetime.
Around 40 km east of central Xian.
Cool and comfortable – don’t forget your camera.
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