I spent Memorial Day weekend in Xi’An, China. I have been to China before a couple times, and I was fascinated by the historical relics that reside in the area. China is home to thousands of years of fascinating history and cultures, some who have only been recently recovered in the past several decades.
There are a wide variety of things to see and do in Xi’An, and one of the things that should be at the top of the list is visiting Bingmayong, better known as the Terra Cotta Warriors.
The Terra Cotta Warriors are part of the tomb of Qin Shi Huang, and they date from around two thousand years ago. After Qin Shi Huang died, supposedly part of the tomb site was plundered by the empire’s enemies, but the tomb soon enough passed into history and wasn’t rediscovered in modern times until around 40 years ago when local farmers were digging for wells In the past 40 years, three pits have been excavated and their treasures unearthed.
The easiest way to visit the Terra Cotta Warriors is with a tour group, and pretty much every hotel and hostel offers their own tour. The tomb is located about an hour’s drive outside of Xi’An, and is located about a 1500 meters walk from the parking lot. I liked that my tour guide had us visit Pits 2 and 3 first, because they are smaller. We finished up at Pit 1, so my viewing experience increased to end at the most spectacular site.
It would probably be best if you went early when it opened around 0830, but most tour groups don’t seem to get there until late morning or after lunch. So just be aware, if you go with a tour group, you will likely be one of hundreds of people on site at the time.
There are three pits on site to visit. Pit 1 is the largest and most famous, and therefore the most crowded. Wait long enough and a space by the railing overlooking the pit will open up, but it is definitely not a quiet, peaceful or solitary activity, unless you can block out the noise of the people around you.
Pit 1 covers an area of over 14,000 square meters on site. Over 2000 terra cotta warriors and horses have been uncovered so far, and it is believed that over 6000 warriors might still be buried. All the warriors’ heads were hand crafted over a period of around 30 years by around 700,000 workers. All the warriors represented the minority groups found in the empire at the time, along with a mixture of horses and military forces.
Pits 2 and 3 are smaller and there are less artifacts to see. Pit 2 consists of a mixture of military forces: archers, charioteers, infantryman, and cavalrymen. There are still plenty of warriors, some broken, some intact in Pit 2, along with remnants of wooden chariots.
Pit 2 hasn’t been fully excavated yet, but some of the intact warriors have been removed from the pit itself and displayed in cases around the pit.
My tour guide stated that Pit 3 is thought to represent the headquarters element of the military formation. Comparatively fewer warriors have been unearthed in this pit (only around 68 senior officers), possibly because the pit might have been raided at some point throughout history.
After the visit to the terra cotta warriors, we took a shuttle bus over to the Tomb of Qin Shi Huang, which is about a 10 minute bus ride away. On first glance, the tomb looks just like a forested hill, but the hill is definitely man made. The tomb has not been excavated yet. Part of the legend is it is booby-trapped with lakes of mercury. That hasn’t been independently verified, though my tour guide stated that mercury levels in the water around the tomb are higher than normal, so it is a possibility.
As I mentioned earlier, the Terra Cotta Warriors are an absolute must do when visiting Xi’An. Even if you aren’t into archaeology, this is a historical site that should not be missed.