Set in Stone: Day Two on the Silk Road in Xi'an and the Terracotta Warriors

So, yesterday we started on our Silk Road journey. I was expecting something different. Well maybe not different… But I had expectations. The Terracotta warriors are something that I have seen pictures of, read about, and watched documentaries on for years and especially in the last three years.

The Terracotta Army is a group of more than 6,000 statues that were handmade for the grave of Emperor Qin Shi Huang about 2400 years ago. Much like ancient Egyptians Emperor Qin started planning his tomb with the idea that whatever was in it would go with him to the afterlife. I guess he wanted an army. We had a guide pick up from the hotel. She gave us some background but them for some reason she started singing. She said that it was a traditional Chinese folk song but I am still confused as to how it fit in with the Terracotta Warriors. The feeling of confusion would last pretty much the whole trip.

Xi'an terracotta warriors

It was very interesting to watch the terracotta being made. My brother works at a company that makes terracotta and it seems as if the process is very much the same around the world and the same throughout history. Except my brother has huge electric dryers to speed up the process. There was a separate building where you could watch a film about the history of the terracotta warriors in English and with no subtitles. There were 100,000 Chinese tourists there and us so I am still confused about that choice. Why not make it accessible to the vast majority of the people there. We seemed to go in at a random time so it wasn’t as if there was a schedule of languages.


At one point we were herded into a book shop that had the man who had discovered the Warriors. sitting and singing books. There was a page taped into the front piece of the book with a picture of him discovering it at 18. You could buy the book and pay to have your picture taken with him. Interesting enough. A lunch we went to a restaurant right on the tourist site and there was the same thing set up. A guy with a table and books to sign and a banner above him showing him discovering the dig. But it was a different guy. I have some suspicions…

terracotta warriors

The journey in your head

I had imagined this huge space where you walked among the statues contemplating ancient questions. We entered the first building. It is gigantic. The size of a couple of football fields. There were so many people that it took quite a bit of time to see the Warriors. I was wedged under some guys elbow and the woman behind me was jabbing me in the head with her massive camera. But there they were. They are in these underground trenches Row upon row upon row of restored larger than life statues. They are incredible detailed and realistic.

In the third building where you can see some of them up close you can see the realism. There are treads of their shoes and expressions on their faces. I found it fascinating that they were not stylized at all. It is almost as if each soldier was molded on a real person. All of the faces that I was also to clearly see were different. I was told that every face is unique. That means that there were more than 6,000 hand carved ultra realistic wooden molds carved. It boggles the mind.

There are three vaults altogether. All of them are huge. There are walkways on the outsides around the the edges and you look down into the dig. One suggestion if you are visiting: Move from the third vault to the first instead of the normal order to go from least to most impressive. The Terracotta Warriors are considered to be the greatest archaeological discovery of the 20th century and it is a hard to wrap your head around. I know that I am going to be processing all of this for a while.

Who is ready to move on to Zhangye tomorrow!?