After a brief stop in Shanghai, during which I was mostly trying to bring myself round to liking China again (no really I do, it has history, and great landscapes, and tasty food, it’s just… oh dear God why can’t people stop spitting?), I hopped on another night train up to Xian to visit probably the second most famous Chinese tourist attraction.
About an hour’s bus ride out of town is the spot where some farmer tried to dig a well and instead unearthed the army of terracotta warriors.
Despite the legions of figures already uncovered, the archeologists are still fitting together loads more, which looks like a job for someone who really really likes impossible jigsaw puzzles. (I always wonder with things like this, how do they know which bit belongs to which statue?)
Everyone knows the warriors are famously all different, but I hadn’t realised just how different until I got here – I had pictured the same face shapes, just with different hats and hairstyles, but they’re all completely individual down to facial features and even body type (the chariot drivers are leaner than the got soldiers for instance). I was visiting with a guy who was a bit of a history nerd and he told me that it was possible to identify some of the minority races in the ranks. There’s a theory that each figure was modeled after a real soldier, in which case it’s possible that all the soldiers were killed to follow their emperor into the afterlife. Which sucks quite a bit, especially if you have to sit through an extensive portrait session knowing what’s coming at the end of it.
Look closely at this photo and you’ll see that even the horses are all different! These were seriously dedicated sculptors.
Lots of headless warriors for some reason – maybe the heads were more fragile than the rest of the statue. Hopefully this won’t affect their afterlife fighting ability too much.
The guide recommends visiting the three pits in reverse order to end with the most impressive one, but I’d say either way works. Pit 1 is certainly the most impressive (that’s the one at the top), but none of the pits give you a particularly close view, whereas number three also has some of the soldiers in glass cases which gives you a much better perspective on how imposing the whole army must have looked. Another thing I hadn’t realised was that all of the soldiers were equipped with real weapons, not clay ones. I can’t imagine the expense involved to create full sized, sharp swords and spears and WORKING crossbows only to bury them all.
The next day before my train I had several hours to kill, so I decided to walk the city wall. Xian has one of the only intact city walls in China, and it’s big – I was up there for over 4 hours.
There are signs placed along the wall explaining bits of tactics and engineering, like the positioning of the archery huts and how the very slightly sloped floor allowed water to run out of gutters to prevent the wall being damaged by the rain.
Unfortunately after a while it all starts to look very much the same and the city of Xian doesn’t make for the most inspiring backdrop, so after holding my interest for the first couple of sides I started to feel a bit like this guy towards the end…
Fully prepared for another night train at least.