Bucket List – The Terracotta Army
Oh my, we're visiting the Terracotta Army. This has always been on my bucket list (of one), but I never wanted to visit China. Funny how we have impressions of a country and can be so wrong - we are loving it here. Mind you, probably it's very different from 45 years ago when the Terracotta Army was discovered.
What a fascinating guy Emperor Qin must have been. After conquering and unifying China, he gave himself the title of First Emperor. He was the guy who ordered the construction of the Great Wall, he also had a 34 km canal built, connecting two of China's major waterways. He feared death, and so had a massive mausoleum built with a life-sized Terracotta Army to protect him in the afterlife from evil spirits. And this Army is what we have come to visit today.
Back in March 1974, farmers were drilling for a well and came across some pottery. Archaeologists were called in, and since then an epic excavation has been taking place and will continue for years to come.
As recommended in the Lonely Planet’s guide, we started in reverse order, visiting Pit 3 which was discovered in June 1976, then Pit 2, found a month earlier and finally the largest of the three, found first, Pit 1. I am so glad we followed the advice. Pit 1 is so massive that going to the smaller Pit 3 last may result in the viewer not taking much interest.
Pit 3 is the smallest at 28.8 m x 24.5 m and 5.3 m deep. Sadly it was severely damaged by Xiang U, a rebel general who succeeded to break in, steal weapons, smash many warriors and set fire to the chambers. Remnants left are 68 pottery figures, one chariot and 34 bronze weapons. These were arranged face to face which suggests that this was built as the command headquarters of Qin Terracotta Army.
The figures are astounding, life-size, and unique with different hair, facial features, and even their stance. They were made from local clay, baked in a kiln and had the maker’s mark as well as a quality check symbol.
What I didn’t realise was that the figures were originally painted. The battle robes were of a range of colours, including light green, scarlet, purple, blue and white with some rimmed with silver. The trousers were green, the armour was mainly dark brown, shoes crimson and the face and hands flesh coloured. It must have looked incredible when it was completed.
Due to the excavation, the atmosphere and drying process, the colours have near enough all faded or peeled off. We wonder if the scientists are finding a way to preserve the paint before excavating any more.
In the 6,000 sq. m of Pit 2, much of this has not been excavated, and we could see the pattern of the fibre matting which covered the wooden roof, held up by substantial wooden rafters and earth walls. The sloping entrances to the paved corridors were then jammed with earth to conceal the Army, which it successfully did for 2,200 years.
By the pit was an exhibition of the different types of soldiers in glass cases:
A Cavalryman with his saddled War-horse, 116 of these has been found in Pit 2 so far.
A Middle- ranking officer, two different styles of armour have been found, some with chest armour and others on both chest and back.
A High Ranking Officer – Seven of these have been found, and their fish-scaled armour was said to be very colourful
Kneeling Archers which initially held crossbows – 160 have been found in Pit 2 so far.
There was also a display of weapons including spears, battle-axe, swords, crossbow and arrows, all exquisitely made. Approximately 40,000 bronze weapons have already been discovered with some chrome-coated. This is incredible, especially as it was believed that Germany and America invented the process of chrome plating in 1937 and 1950 respectively, 2,200 years after the Qing Dynasty in China.
Finally, we entered Pit 1. Oh wow, it is massive, measuring 230m x 62 m in an enormous domed building. It is estimated that more than 6,000 pottery warriors and horses and 50 chariots will be unearthed. So far a third has been excavated. Not only did we admire the extraordinary work involved in building this Army in clay with such skill, but also the patience and dedication of the Archaeologists. They must be brilliant at jigsaw puzzles. To construct some of these figures from the bits of rubble is a fantastic feat.
As well as the rows upon rows of soldiers, some horses and much rubble, we could see some of the statues being reconstructed, the location of the farmers’ well and a brick wall, to mend a sidewall that had partially collapsed. These are the earliest bricks that have been discovered in China.
Well, there you go. We have ticked off my top bucket list of one. It really is an incredible place and definitely worth spending 51 days to get here!