|The Terracotta Warriors were uncovered in Xi'an, China|
Imagine being a farmer just outside of Xi'an, the former capital of ancient China and starting point of the legendary Silk Road. It's 1974, and frankly, all that you are looking for is a new source of water during this time of drought. You start digging a well in the same earth where generations before you have plowed and buried their dead. You uncover bits of a clay figure. Odd shards of pottery have been dug up around here for centuries. Unlike others, you don't dismiss it as insignificant. You've just discovered one of the greatest archeological finds in the world — a life-size army of terracotta warriors and horses.
The Terracotta Warriors are one of the top tourists draws in China. Note that it is nowhere near Beijing, the Forbidden City or the Great Wall. Most Westerners hop on a plane to get here. The clay army is what draws most tourists to Xi'an, but other historical sites exist in this 3,100-year-old city, too. It turned out to be a place my whole family, both kids and adults, enjoyed even though we had just 24 hours to get out and explore.
|The centuries-old wall encircling old Xi'an is the largest in the world.|
Cycling on the City WallAfter our delayed flight finally arrived in mid-afternoon, our first stop in Xi'an was the City Wall which happens to be the largest one in the world. It measures 12 meters (36 feet) tall, 18 meters (54 feet) at the bottom, and 15 meters (45 feet) across at the top. The rectangular city wall wraps itself around the old city, covering 13.7 km (8.5 miles) and is interrupted by gates on each side which were closed each night when it still provided fortification for China's former capitol.
When the kids saw the bicycle rental shop on top of the wall, they immediately decided that it was a much better option than walking. At US$6.60 per 100 minutes for a single bicycle and double that for a twin, we adults didn't argue with them. Hubby and I both got tandem bikes to share with the younger kids while my teen took off on his own. This was indeed a very popular way for tourists to get around, so I was quite glad that the wall was so wide on top. Rental shops are by each gate, and customers can return their bikes at any of them. As we rode around, we peeked out through the battlements and kept smelling the inescapable aroma of stir-fried food. After an hour, we were ready to head off to the next stop.
|Taking a break from biking at one of the corner towers on the Xi'an City Wall.|
The Bell Tower and Drum TowerBoth hubby and I weren't expecting much from our Bell Tower visit, thinking that it was just a way to fill time before heading to the hotel. It turned out to be more interesting than we thought. Standing at the geographical center of old Xi'an, it's surrounded by a giant roundabout connected to the North, South, East, and West Streets which extend outwards towards the City Wall gates. The juxtaposition between the tower built in 1384 and the luxe shopping malls with Starbucks and Haagen-Dazs on the outer side of the roundabout sums up Xi'an perfectly. It's a mix of old and new.
|The massive 5-ton bell that tourists are NOT allowed to ring much to my kids dismay.|
The wooden, 3-story tower sits atop a tall brick base. Centuries ago, the bell was rung at dawn to signify that it was time to open the four city gates. At nightfall, the giant drums of the Drum Tower a block away were played to indicate it was time for the gates to close. I imagine that in the 14th century, it must have loomed over the town. Both the outside and the inside are covered with intricate paintings. You can climb the stairs inside and go out to the surrounding balconies for a good city view.
|The Drum Tower at night as seen from the Bell Tower|
By now, it was time to head to our hotel for dinner and a restful night's sleep. The next day would bring the highlight of our time in Xi'an, a visit to the Terracotta Army.
An Army Frozen in Time
|The Terracotta Army stands ready in Pit 1.|
See the tourists standing behind the railing against the side walls?
Qin Shi Huangdi, the "First Emperor," unified China in 221 B.C. and died in 210 B.C. He is best known in the modern world as the man who required an entire terracotta army to protect him in his afterlife. In the almost 40 years since the first pieces were discovered, archeologists have located 600 underground vaults within a 22-square-mile area. Only three vaults (pits) have been thoroughly excavated so far. This small sample of Qin Shi Huangdi's necropolis contains an estimated 7,500 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses, and 150 cavalry horses.
When you walk into Pit 1, the army is amassed and standing at attention as if ready to head off to war. The sheer size of the dig invokes awe. That's something that cannot be transported to the touring exhibits in museums around the world.
Imagine what the other 597 pits must contain. Test digs have revealed bronze waterfowl as well as clay officials, musicians and acrobats. I guess he needed counsel, protection, and entertainment after death. A forested berm has been identified as the Emperor's actual tomb, but it has so far been left undisturbed until archeologists are certain they have adequate techniques to protect what they find there.
|Amazing attention to detail, even down to the tread on a soldier's shoes.|
The warriors were crafted with mix-and-match molds, allowing each one to look a little different from the next. They were mass produced and painted before being carted down into the underground vaults. Earthen walls between the army columns supported wooden beams that held up reed mats, waterproofing clay layers, and the soil used to bury the terracotta soldiers. As time marched on, the beams collapsed, crushing the warriors beneath them. By the time the 20th century rolled around, archeologists were left with a gigantic jigsaw puzzle of attempting to reconstruct each man. As the paint was exposed to air, it quickly disintegrated. This is why the scientists have been proceeding with caution, nervous at uncovering other materials that they currently cannot preserve. As each soldier or horse is completed, it is moved back to its original position.
|Some paint remains on these Warriors.|
|Each warrior is tagged and his location noted as they are unearthed in Pit 1.|
|The "hospital" in Pit 1 where archeologists reassemble warriors.|
|Restored warriors at the front with the fragments in the back.|
|Four soldiers are displayed so that you can get an up close look at them.|
After three hours visiting the Terracotta Warriors, we headed for the airport in hopes of finding a late lunch there before we departed. It was just under 24 hours since we had first set foot in Xi'an.
What happened to the farmer who was looking for water but discovered an army? He now sits behind a desk at the gift shop, signing autographs and posing for photos for those willing to pay him. It's nice work if you can get it.
This post is part of Travel Photo Thursday on Budget Travelers Sandbox, "Oh the Places I've Been" on The Tablescaper and "Sunday Traveler" on Ice Cream and Permafrost. Check them out for more around-the-world travel inspiration.