Once named the eighth wonder of the world by former French president Jacques Chirac, the Terracotta Warriors have been an archaeologist dream come true. On a chance discovery by local farmers, these ancient terracotta figurines were found and discovered to depict the First Emperor’s armies.
The figures can be dated back to 210BC though were only discovered in 1974. Fortunately, archaeologists have been able unearth many figures and they remain quite well preserved given the amount of time they were buried. They are now listed as a world cultural heritage site by UNESCO.
Before their discovery, the terracotta warriors were buried deep underground with barren pebbles covering the surface. Ancient tombs were found above the site and their excavation reached the tip of the buried warriors and eminently destroyed many of the figures. Fragments were scattered throughout the land and several locals would make the most of their terracotta finds and use them for their own use, unbeknown to them their historical value and importance.
It wasn’t until some villagers were digging wells that the burned earth was discovered. With further findings, the village superiors were notified and consequently the Chinese Government were brought in and identified their royal identity as the Qin Shi Huang terracotta warriors. A museum was built around the site they were uncovered and opened to the public in three stages.
The figurines that were unearthed varied in looks as one of the key elements of the warriors is that they were all constructed to be unique from one another. They vary in height from 1.83m to 1.95m respective of their rank and roles within the army. In addition to the warriors themselves, figurines of horses, musicians and chariots were also uncovered. They are all life-size and look very realistic down to the fine detail of their facial features.
The figurines were created using moulds with each part of the body being made separately, then once assembled the final touches were added to make them unique from each other. They discovered that they were once painted also, however only very few have remaining traces of paint.
The museum under which they are protected is divided into three pits. The first of the pits was also the first to be opened up to the public and is where there are deep columns of soldiers with war chariots at the rear. This pit has had the most figurines with over 6,000 terracotta warriors and horses within and a massive 1,000 of which have been unearthed and has been open to the public since 1979.
The second pit is only 20m from the first and contains over 1,000 warriors and was opened for public viewing in 1994. The pit is in the shape of an “L” and considered one of the more spectacular of the pits as the figurines are more complex and less damaged. Bronze swords were unveiled here, found in amazing shape surprising everyone since they had been buried for over 2000 years.
The third and final pit again is only about 25m away from the first pit and has been deemed the command centre of the army that was built. This pit is in the shape of a “U” with 68 warriors within. What has intrigued the experts in this discovery is the absence of a commander-in-chief.
Alltogether there are over 7,000 figurines from soldiers to chariots and weapons that have been discovered in the three pits, many of which have been restored though many of the warriors in pit three are missing their heads.
Visiting the Terra Cotta Warriors is one of China’s best attractions and well worth the 65-90 RMB on entry. Though note that entry fees differ with the time of year, the peak season being between March and November when prices are higher.