The Terracotta Army is called one of the greatest archaeological finds of the 20th century and to be honest, it is one very impressive piece of ancient history. Where else in the world can you find a life size army of terracotta warriors over 2240 years old??? I’ll tell you. NO WHERE!!! Like the Forbidden City and the Great Wall, the Terracotta Army is one of the places in China you must see before you go back home.
Background – The first emperor of China, Ying Zheng united China, created the first version of the great wall, standardized the written language, killed a lot of people and lived a pretty violent and impressive life. The terracotta army was a part of an underground mausoleum built for him.
Work began on the mausoleum in 246 BC soon after Ying Zheng took to the throne as king and took 11 years to complete by 700,000 workers. The mausoleum was put to use later in 210 BC at Ying Zheng’s death.
The army itself is estimated to be over 8000 warriors, horses and chariots and is buried in a series of four pits. Precise estimates are still not possible because excavation of the pits is not complete. The purpose of the army was to accompany Ying Zheng in the afterlife.
You can see from the pictures below that many of the actual statues are in pieces and putting them back together again is a long and painstaking task.
The pits holding the army are 1.5 kilometers east of the actual tomb of the emperor which remains unexcavated because archaeologists fear that excavating the tomb will damage or destroy its priceless contents.
Getting There – The Terracotta Army is near city of Xian in Shaanxin province south west of Beijing in the centre of China. The best way to get there is by catching an over night train from Beijing West train station. There are at least 3 trains leaving Beijing each evening and the train trip takes about 12 hours. Depending on the train you catch, you’ll have a choice of a seat (no, no, no), hard sleeper (my favourite), soft sleeper (too pampered) and a deluxe soft sleeper (no comment).
Look for a train with the sign in the photo below and make sure you are in Beijing West train station not Beijing train station. To many hapless foreigners and locals have ended up at the wrong station.
You’ll arrive in Xian in the morning so head of to your hotel, dump your bags and prepare yourself for a great day. I stayed at the Xian City hotel which was not the best but good enough. You’ll need at least half a day to see the Terracotta Army and mausoleum. There are public buses leaving from different parts of the town that will take you all the way to the Terracotta Army. Ask your hotel staff for directions to the nearest bus stop. The bus trip will take about an hour.
Stay over night and catch an evening train the next day back to Beijing. Going back to Beijing there is also at least 3 trains in the evening. Xian is a great place and you’ll find that even two days there is not quiet enough.
Trivia – The Chinese for Terracotta Army is bing ma yong which means soldier horse funeral statues. Tell your Chinese friends and travel companions you’ve been to see the bing ma yong and they will be impressed.