Xian Travel Guide

Terra-cotta Army

Site Plan
Site Plan

The Terra-cotta Army was discovered in 1974 by peasants digging a well. The awesome ranks of life-size pottery figures, modeled from yellow clay, were made to guard the tomb of Qin Shi Huangdi, despotic ruler who unified China over 2,200 years ago. Excavations yielded three pits and over 7,000 soldiers, archers, and horses. Pit 1 contains the infantry; pit 2 (still being excavated) is filled with cavalry and soldiers; and pit 3 (partially unexcavated) seems to be the command center, with 70 high-ranking officers. Each warrior, originally colored with pigment and holding a weapon, has an individually crafted expression.

Army in Pit One

The most impressive pit contains over 6,000 warriors, arrayed in battle formation. The rear of the vault is strewn with smashed heads and fragments yet to be assembled.

One of the bronze chariots, on display in the Exhibition Hall
One of the bronze chariots,
on display in the Exhibition Hall
High-ranking Officer
High-ranking Officer

The pottery warriors were originally equipped with weapons, including swords, spears, and bows and arrows, many of which have rotted.

High-ranking Officer
Dressed commandingly in a long, two-layered knee-length tunic, this imposing figure is distinguished both by his regalia and by being taller than the pottery infantry figures he appears to oversee.

Qin Shi Huangdi's Tomb
The Terra-cotta Army is just one part, the defending army, of a complex necropolis. A mile west of the pits, a large hill, yet to be fully excavated, is believed to be the burial mound of emperor Qin Shi, a tyrant preoccupied with death and the legacy he would leave behind. He spared no expense, enlisting 700,000 people over 36 years in the tomb’s construction. Historical sources portray a miniature plan of his empire: a floor cut by rivers of mercury beneath a ceiling studded with pearls to represent the night sky. The complex is also said to contain 48 tombs for concubines who were buried alive with the emperor, a fate also reserved for workers, to prevent the location and design of the tomb from becoming known. Two marvelous bronze chariots, originally housed in wooden coffins, were unearthed near the burial mound, and laboriously reassembled. Half actual size, one is made up of over 3,600 metal pieces.

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