Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Terracotta Warriors In Xi'an

Visiting the Terracotta Warriors in Xi'an has been a dream of mine for quite sometime. I visited the National Geographic Museum in Washington D.C. in 2010 when the Terracotta Warriors were on a traveling exhibit there. The trip was a 30th birthday gift to myself and I arranged to visit the museum on my birthday which happened to be the final weekend of the Warriors on display there before moving on to a new city. It was a beautiful exhibit that made me all the more excited to travel to Xi'an one day to view the excavated pit in person. Well, today that dream finally came true!

The Terracotta Warrior Museum is about an hour outside the city of Xi'an. There are many tours you can book that will take you there that range in price, but it is really easy to get to on your own without the expense of a tour guide. There is a bus depot in a parking lot across from the Xi'an Train Station that has buses leaving at regular intervals (every 10-20 minutes or so). Just board bus 5(306) which is clearly marked. The cost is 7 yuan each way and the fee will be collected once you are on board. Currency exchange rates fluctuate, but 6 yuan is roughly equal to $1.00 US. The entire trip takes about an hour with about 6 stops along the way. The bus stops at the parking lot for the museum so you won't miss it. When you are ready to return, go to the same location the bus dropped you off and wait for the next bus 5(306) going back to Xi'an. 

Pit 1

I went back and forth on whether or not to hire a tour guide. I read so many reviews that said you need a tour guide or you won't understand anything. I took the bus on my own to the museum. Just outside there are guides that are willing to sell their services to lead you around the museum. I negotiated with one woman and decided to hire her for 100 yuan for a 2 hour tour. I am a fanatic for anything history related and I'm fascinated by the Terracotta Warriors so I already had some background knowledge on the exhibit. If you didn't want to hire a guide, I think you would get a lot out of the exhibit just by reading the info in your guidebook before arriving and reading the English plaques around the museum. Pit 1 & 3 didn't have as much information, but Pit 2 is more of a museum with the artifacts on display and had adequate signage. In the end, I was glad I hired the guide last minute since I was traveling alone. It was nice to hear the added information, above what I already knew, and I had my own personal photographer for the visit. I don't think I would have nearly as many photos of myself otherwise. Plus she knew her way around, so I didn't have to figure out where to go. She led me everywhere.     

As you can imagine, the Warriors were found in a bunch of pieces and needed to be reassembled. There are current restorations in progress. The process is quite loud so the restorations take place in the evenings after the museum is closed to tourists for the day. The Warriors were originally painted, but within 2 hours of being unearthed, the color quickly faded due to an oxidation process. Part of the pits are still covered in an effort to protect the statues until a technology is developed that will preserve the original paint color. Pit 1 is the largest of the three and contains the soldiers and slaves. Fun fact I learned: slaves had to kill 500-1000 foreigners in order to be promoted. To prove the number of people killed, they had to produce an ear from each person.

If you are familiar with the history of ancient Egypt, people believed there was life in the afterlife and you needed to take all of your goods with you. Ancient Chinese emperors believed the same. One difference is that Egyptians buried food with them where the Chinese did not. However the Chinese did bring along food vessels such as wine and water flasks. The purpose of this burial site was for emperor Qin Shi Huang to have his army follow him into the afterlife. Fortunately he was advised to create replicas of individual warriors rather than bury alive the real soldiers. Each statue in the pit represents an individual person. 

Higher-ranking officers and generals were buried in Pit 3. This pit is considerably smaller than Pit 1. There are photos on the wall that were taken during the excavation process that depict the color of the statues. Also in this area is a fun photo opportunity. Since you are not allowed to walk into the pits to examine the Warriors up close, there is a photo booth set up to look just like Pit 1. For 10 yuan per person you can stand among the replicas for a few souvenir photos.    

Pit 3

The Terracotta Warriors were discovered in the countryside just outside Xi'an by a farmer digging a well in 1974. In China, the government owns all of the land. So the individual farmer that discovered the first pit did not become wealthy for his amazing find. Although he is currently the leader (president?) of the museum and is often on site in the gift shop. He earns a salary of 3,000 yuan a month. It doesn't sound like much, but it is considerably higher than what he earned as a farmer and conceivably a much more comfortable position.  Now he signs copies of the museum book and poses for photographs with tourists.

Finally I visited Pit 2. One Warrior was discovered intact and is on display in a glass box. With the opportunity to view one of the statues up close, you can see all of the detail that went into making each figure. Every detail down to the treads on the bottom of the shoe to the lines on the inside of the individual hand was recreated.

 Also on display in Pit 2 are some of the weapons that were discovered along with the statues. 

I spent over two hours walking through the three pits and for me it was an amazing experience. What do you think, would you trek out to central China and take a bus out to the countryside to view this in person?



  1. Great post! I'm going to see the Terracotta Warriors in February and I'm very excited. Cool that you were able to take pictures sitting next to the statues! Do they allow everybody who want to do this or?

    1. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did! Be sure to check out some of the other great sites in Xi'an while you're there too!