Xi’an: Warrior style

The complete set of Xi’an photos are here

Xi’an is one of those towns that loom large in a tourist’s mind for one attraction only, in this case the Terracotta Army. The city of Xi’an is no slouch though, having been around for, well, let’s just call it a hell of a long time. As with all the Chinese cities we visited Xi’an is gleamingly modern and massive in scale. The new city spills out for miles but in the core of Xi’an they still have a very attractive bell and drum tower. Traditionally the bell was rung at the start of the day and the drum beaten to signal the fall of the sun. Now they are just very impressive landmarks, the bell tower being so integrated in modern Xi’an that it’s located in the middle of a roundabout and accessible via pedestrian tunnels.

The other main attraction in the centre of the city is the Great Mosque which we whipped through on the way to the airport. It’s a strange building architecturally, very much in the Chinese style with sweeping, tiled roofs and many courtyards. Here and there you see signs of Islamic influence, such as in the Islamic gold script written above doors, although even this has a Chinese flavour to my eyes. The history of the place is supposed to have started in 742AD, although it’s not explained how Islam managed to get a mosque started in the middle of the Chinese empire at that time. No doubt there’s an interesting story there somewhere. The buildings that are there now were built in the 14th century during the Ming dynasty and are still used today by the city’s Muslims.

Before we get to the great Terracotta Army mention must be made of the noodle restaurant we went to which had the lovely gimmick of a three metre long noodle. I’m not sure mine quite made it to that length but I was chomping on it pretty ferociously.

For the main attraction we headed out in the morning, trudging around in the warm rain trying to find the right bus. The bus took the scenic route but we made it in the end to a fairly nondescript parking lot which we were assured was the correct place. We wandered past shops, along a fence and through the car park before finding the ticketing office. It was definitely an AAAAA-rated attraction so we paid top dollar for the tickets (about $30 each I guess) then headed to the toilet before going in. What happened next is contentious but from my point of view Sarah went into the toilet with her ticket and when she came out it had disappeared. Somehow this became my fault as Sarah claimed she gave me the ticket before entering. Either that or the young American girl who was also in there and nervous about entering a Chinese toilet picked Sarah’s pocket. I think it’s more likely that the ticket was dropped somewhere and swooped on by an eagle-eyed attendant. We just sucked it up and bought another ticket. It was worth it.

The scale of the Terracotta Army is matched only by the halls that the Chinese have built over the top of them. Everyone rides in a golf cart even to get to the entrance and on the way out there are kilometres of shops to walk past. Once you finally get to the aircraft hangers that house them the scale of the enterprise that the first emperor of China undertook is truly staggering. Not content with conquering the living world he required an army to take on the underworld as well. There are roughly 8000 soldiers, 100 chariots and 600 horses. Not only is the scale unbelievable but the level of detail is mind blowing as well. These are not mass manufactured cookie cutter soldiers. They all look different in some way. Apparently there were eight face moulds used which gave the basic shape, then individual characteristics were tweaked – hairstyle, the sweep of a belt, the collar of a shirt – they all look slightly different.

The site was only discovered in 1974 when a group of farmers were digging a well. It has to be the most stunning archaeological find in modern history. The site now has three pits of varying sizes, the largest being vast in scale. Dating from the 3rd century BC and involving up to 700,000 workers, some of whom were interred along with the fake army, the site gives a visual scale of the scope of the Chinese empire at the time. Still, the first Qin emperor sounds like a complete bastard and I’m sure his people would have appreciated a bit more attention paid to their needs rather than this extravagant underground army.

It’s good to know some things don’t change.  Our friend Mike got this exact same photo taken years and years ago.  They’re still going strong.

The complete set of Xi’an photos are here

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