The famous Terracotta Army was one of my most anticipated visits while being in China. Over 8,000 soldiers and 130 chariots with almost 700 horses made from Terracotta to protect the first Emperor of China after his death? Oh yeah I want to see that phenomenon!
Once upon a time in China, (220-200 BC), the Qin Dynasty was established in China unifying the country. Qin Shi Huang was crowded the first Emperor of China. He is also famous for making a start to the nowadays famous Great Wall of China.
But he also built his own mausoleum after his death, to be protected in the afterlife. The young Emperor ordered hundreds of thousands workers to help with the creation of the now known Terracotta Army. The first Emperor is portrayed as a ruthless man in the history books. Legends say he made the army to protect him in the afterlife from people who seek revenge. The Terracotta Army functions as a defense for the entire mausoleum. The entire structure still has not been excavated fully yet.
The site was discovered by local farmers in 1974. New discoveries have been made as early as 2008! So there is still a vast majority unknown waiting to be discovered. The site is near the big city of Xi’An.
The statues are pointing towards the East. The original ruling area during the Qing Dynasty was in the West. So the warriors are facing the enemies in the East.
The most amazing part is that all these 2,200 years old statues are unique. They have their own facial features, hair styles or different skills (f.e. archer or general). You can see the difference in hierarchies which were common in that day.
Visiting the Terracotta Army
Nowadays the Terracotta Army can be visited by public. The entrance fee is 150 RMB per person from March to November and 120 RMB per person from December to February . The is an exhibition museum in 3 of the 4 known pits. These are also the 3 pits from which the warriors have been excavated. The pits are the main attractions to the site. For a detailed tourist map check the image below (source: https://www.travelchinaguide.com):
Entering the museum the first thing you notice is the crowd. It is a popular place to visit, especially for tourists from China itself. Do not be shocked by the amount of people. They sometimes are more impressive than the vast army of Terracotta warriors self!
After you enter you can see the museums right in front of you. Be sure to visit the pits first, recommend to go to the first pit straight away to gaze at the humongous army.
All the pits you can visit are not totally excavated yet. The army is spread out within 16,300 square meters (!!!) and only a fraction has been unearthed. The statues used to be colorful but because of the dry air in Xi’An the statues get affected by the oxygen when exposed. This is the main reason that a vast majority is uncovered.
Pit number 1 was the first pit discovered by local farmers in 1974. Inside the hall the warriors are lined up towards the east. It is a spectacular sight. And only 1/6th of the warriors and horses (1,000 out of 6,000) are displayed. The rest still have to be unearthed.
The warriors are lined up in battle formation, ready to engage any intruders. Breathtaking!
Pit 2 has a more detailed army excavated. With chariots and archers displayed in glass cubes you can get a good look in the details that were put in each and every statue. Thousands of bronze weapons, over 80 war chariots and 1,300 warriors were discovered in pit 2.
Shaped in a U (or a Chinese “凹” character) the 3rd pit is thought of being a command center for the other 2 pits. The site includes 68 warriors, 4 horses and 1 chariot in a unique setting. A lot of warriors are beheaded, which are thought of being destroyed by vandals. During the excavation, various items of bronze and gold were found.
Near the pit you can find different types of warriors on display with also an explanation about title and unique features. for example the crossbow warrior has a unique stance, kneeling for the usage of his crossbow.
Other things to see besides the pits
There are two bronze chariots discovered which are on display. The chariots had serious damage and were restored before putting on display in 1988.
There are also accessories on display, from bronze ducks to bronze arrows. You can also go on a fake photo with the pit in the background. It looked quite shitty so we did not do it. Try to take a sneaky picture of it before the personnel yell at you! 😉
The Qin Shi Huang mausoleum is also located nearby. We did not visit the site, but more information can be found here.
Once you exit there are a ton of souvenir shops to do some bargaining. There are also food places, even Subway, Starbucks, McDonald’s and KFC can be found there. We love Starbucks in China as they do not have a squat toilet. The toilets in the museum are gross, so if you can hold it up: go Starbucks!
We bought a set of Terracotta Warriors for 50 RMB, but you can easily get them for 20 RMB (we bought a bit too expensive), a wooden Buddha statue for 30 RMB, a keychain or 5 RMB and a fridge magnet for 10 RMB. Be sure to avoid the shop in the museum, it is overpriced.
How to get there
The easiest way to visit the Terracotta Army is by bus from the city of Xi’An. It takes you about one hour to reach. A one way trip will cost you about 7 RMB per person (sometimes its 8 or 9, of course they try to get a Yen or 2 extra from foreigners). Take bus line 306 or 914.
For flights and trains, check the image below (source: https://www.travelchinaguide.com):
The total time you will have to count for is 2 to 4 hours, depending how much you want to see and how long you will gasp at the surroundings.
Be sure to bring your identification (passport) along, without there is no entry!
Opening hours are between 8:30 and 18:00 (between 16th of November till 15th of March open till 17:30).
We definitely loved the site, gazing at a thousand Terracotta warriors is a must do experience! The things we did not like was how crowded the place was in the afternoon, so be sure to go during dinner time or early in the morning. We also disgusted the toilets, save it for the Starbucks outside the site ;).