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Wotta Lotta Terracotta

Xi'an Travel Blog

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A high ranking officer, taken through a glass case.

Like many travellers, martial pottery was the only reason I visited Xi'An. The terracotta warriors of the First Qin Emperor have long held a place in my “They look good on telly - must go there one day” list. But, unlike my day walking the Great Wall, a face-to-face encounter with the ceramic army didn't leave me feeling all that excited.


That's not to say that there isn't a certain fascination embodied by the painstakingly reconstructed soldiers. I have an active interest in both history and the peculiarities of human nature, so the story of an Emperor's obsession with constructing a terracotta host to accompany him into the next life naturally drew me in.


And there's no denying that wandering the various chambers of excavated and restored soldiery is a great (and freezing - take a coat) way to spend an afternoon.

Pit One taken from near the main entrance.
The artistry that went into both the original warriors and their modern reconstruction was meticulous to the extreme. Each of the soldiers is life-size and they all, famously, have individual features.


The whole experience is absorbing and, as an example of art on a mass scale, I don't think I've ever seen anything to compare with it. Certainly nothing not connected to religious worship (although you could argue that belief in an afterlife played a hefty part in the army's original construction). The main No.1 pit is where the mass of the soldiers call home; this is the most impressive part of the site. Row after row of soldiers and horses deployed in tunnels to guard against who knows what.


You can't get too close to the soldiers but that's not really a criticism.

Mugshot of another officer.
It would be wonderful to be able to meander freely amongst the pottery ranks but I understand that the needs of conservation mean that it wouldn't be wise to allow kids and idiots the chance to get too close. There are examples of the soldiers in glass boxes that you can study at closer range. If, that is, you can elbow your way through the camera-wielding hordes to get a proper look.


No - I've nothing bad to say about the terracotta warriors. The price is reasonable, the site is easily accessible and the commercial circus that you have to walk through on the way out is par for the touristic course. It's just that years of anticipation and documentaries built an expectation within me that couldn't be satisfied.


I hankered for a wow factor that didn't materialise and came away informed rather than exhilarated. But maybe, in today's media-influenced, short-term gratification world, that isn't such a bad thing...


mybu84 says:
we were not greatly impresed either, to be honest:)
Posted on: Dec 28, 2008
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A high ranking officer, taken thro…
A high ranking officer, taken thr…
Pit One taken from near the main e…
Pit One taken from near the main …
Mugshot of another officer.
Mugshot of another officer.
Moi in Pit One. Snapped unenthusia…
Moi in Pit One. Snapped unenthusi…
A kneeling archer (sans bow).
A kneeling archer (sans bow).
Pit 3 - partially excavated you ca…
Pit 3 - partially excavated you c…
The front rank of the warriors in …
The front rank of the warriors in…
A close up of one of the tunnels f…
A close up of one of the tunnels …
Xi'an
photo by: Deats