We got off the sleeper train from Beijing at 8:00am ready for another action packed day and were met by our guide, Lily. She immediately asked if we wanted to freshen up before starting our day, but we knew that it was going to be a packed agenda and wanted to get going. It was a 45 minute journey in a very comfortable vehicle to the Terracotta Army site and we were well stocked with plenty of water to keep us hydrated.
Lily was extremely knowledgeable about Xi’an, China history in general and especially about the Warriors. As we were pulling into the Museum, she was telling us the story about how they were discovered (by a farmer called Mr Yang in 1974) and said that he was often at the shop to meet people and answer questions and have photos taken. It was our lucky day as he was just walking into the shop at the same time as us so we all had our photo with him and he signed our book!
Lily told us a funny story about Mr Yang meeting President Clinton. He was being taught some basic English to say and was told to say “how are you?”, with which Clinton would respond “fine, thank you, and you?” and then Mr Yang should say “me too”. However, when he met the President he actually said “who are you?” Clinton then said “I am the husband of Hilary Clinton” and Mr Yang responded “me too”. Definitely lost in translation!!
Experiencing the very moving Warriors was all the more special as Lily was telling us stories about each section and how they are working on uncovering more, the preservation techniques and the history associated with them. The detail on each Warrior is outstanding and hard to believe that they are over 2200 years old.
The first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang, wanted to be protected in his afterlife and therefore had his army recreated in Terracotta to be buried with him. To date, over 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses have been discovered in 3 main pits. The figures vary in height according to their roles and the tallest are the Generals. Other terracotta non-military figures were also found in other pits and they include officials, acrobats, strongmen, and musicians.
In addition to the warriors, an entire necropolis built for the emperor also has been found surrounding the first emperor’s tomb mound which is located at the foot of Mount Li and built in a pyramid shape. It was designed to be a scaled down version of his imperial palace and includes offices, halls, stables and other buildings. This is all surrounded by rammed earth walls with different gateway entrances.
The terracotta army figures were manufactured in workshops by government laborers and local craftsmen using materials originated on Mount Li, and some historical documents estimate as many as 700,000 people working on these. Heads, arms, legs, and torsos were all created separately and then assembled – an early production assembly line! Historians believe that there were 8 basic face moulds which were then made unique with additions of clay and sculpting. Each worker signed the piece that they worked on. Once complete, they were placed in military formation around the tomb. They vary in height, uniform, and hairstyle in accordance with rank and most of them originally held real weapons such as spears, swords, or crossbows. Evidence shows that they were also painted with bright paint – pink, red, blue, green, white, black and brown. Unfortunately, once the terracotta warriors are uncovered the vivid paint curls and flakes off or fades rapidly – within 15 minutes of exposure. Lily told us that they know there are many more figures to excavate, but are waiting for the right technology to do that AND preserve the colour. And, they haven’t even started on the actual tomb of the Emperor yet!
To keep Isabelle and Oliver occupied while us adults were in awe of what we were seeing, Lily kept them fed with Oreo Cookies and other treats! After seeing the pits, we moved into the museum area.
After spending several hours at the Museum, we left to have a delicious lunch at a local restaurant. Lily was very conscious of Oliver’s nut allergy when ordering all the dishes and was very insistent with the restaurant staff that everything should be nut free. The meal was fantastic (she had asked what food we preferred, but of course we all said local!!) More history and local knowledge was shared with us over this meal. After lunch we went to visit the City wall and the Muslim shopping area.
When Zhu Yuanzhang, the first Emperor of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), captured Huizhou, a hermit named Zhu Sheng admonished him that he should ‘built high walls, store abundant food supplies and take time to be an Emperor,’ so that he could fortify the city and unify the other states. After the establishment of the Ming dynasty, Zhu Yuanzhang followed his advice and began to enlarge the wall built initially during the old Tang Dynasty (618 – 907), creating the modern Xian City Wall. It’s the most complete city wall that has survived in China, as well being one of the largest ancient military defensive systems in the world. Source: TravelChinaGuide.
The wall is almost 14km long, with a deep moat surrounding it. Every 120 meters there is a rampant, 98 in total, that houses a sentry building. The only way for an enemy to enter the city was by attacking the gates in the wall, so the ancient Chinese built complex structures within the wall! The City Wall in Xi’an includes four gates and they are; Changle (meaning eternal joy) in the east, Anding (harmony peace) in the west, Yongning (eternal peace) in the south and Anyuan (forever harmony) in the north. The south gate, Yongning, is the most beautifully decorated one. It is very near to the Bell Tower at the center of the city. Watch towers are located on each of the four corners of the wall. The one at the southwestern corner is round, but the other three are square-shaped.
The Drum Tower got its name from the huge drum located within the building. At the beginning of each day, at dawn, a bell was struck – in the Bell Tower. At the end of each day, the drum was beat at sunset to indicate the end of the day – in the Drum Tower. On the first floor of this tower is a hall that houses many large drums, decorated with intrinsic and beautiful Chinese writing, which symbolizes good fortune.
After we had visited the City Wall, Lily took us to Muslim Quarter, which includes Muslim Street. The street is about 500 meters in length from south to north and you reach it under the archway under the Drum Tower. This street is paved with dark colored stone with lots of green trees lining the street. The buildings on both sides of the street are modeled on the styles of both the Ming (1368-1644) and the Qing Dynasties (1644-1911). Some of the buildings are restaurants, while others are stores selling lots of tourist souvenirs, but here there is one thing in common: the owners are all Muslims. This is a big tourist attraction in Xi’an! Xi’an was the starting point of the ancient Silk Road 1,000 years ago in the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-9 AD). A number of merchants and overseas students from the Arabic countries and Persia went to Xi’an for business and studying since the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-9 AD); they settled down on the present Muslim Street, and they were called the Hui people by the locals. One generation after another, the descendants of the Hui ethnic people now number over 60,000.
Lily was a great tour guide. We had heard lots of stories about tourists being taken to certain shops and vendors and pushed into buying something, but Lily did not do this. At the end of the day, she returned us back to the train station and even wanted to come and wait with us until the train time (which we declined as we thought we could do that by ourselves!) The whole day was a brilliant experience with a lovely lady who ensured that EVERYTHING ran smoothly with no unexpected surprises or additional fees. Like Jeff the day before in Beijing, Lily is also proud of the history and culture of China and this comes through when she is explaining and discussing it. This made a huge difference to me – being able to hear from a local all the things that you would never read in a guide book. She answered all our questions with patience and detail. It could not have been a better day!