China: Terracotta Warriors

I’ve been a bad blogger and haven’t posted in ages. But it’s time to continue the China travel story!

After Beijing, we traveled (on the infamous overnight train) to Xi’an, which was once the capital of China, and was the starting point of the famous Silk Road.

The big tourist attraction there is the Terracotta Army, the largest group of pottery figurines ever found in China, and which was only discovered in 1974. I remember reading about it when it was discovered, and thought it was fascinating. I never thought I’d ever have the opportunity to actually see them.

There are over 8,000 life-sized warriors in the three pits, plus hundreds of horses and chariots. They date back to a couple of hundred years B.C., and were supposed to protect the emperor in his afterlife. Each warrior has a unique face! Apparently there were several different molds that were used for the heads and body parts, but then the detail of the faces was modeled in clay by hand, and the figures were brightly painted.

The main pit contains rows and rows of warriors (approximately 6,000), not all of which have yet been excavated. You can get an idea of how large this pit is by seeing how tiny the tourists look on either edge of it.

Terracotta warriors Pit 1

Terracotta Army, Pit #1

Approximately in the center of this pit is a small tomb that was dug in the 1940’s – but it was dug between rows of warriors, so they just missed hitting one of the main aisles and discovering the statues. You can see the tomb in the photo below – it’s the arch-shaped hole just above center:

Arch-shaped tomb in Terracotta Warrior Pit

Arch-shaped tomb in Terracotta Warrior Pit

All of the warriors have been restored from broken pieces. The statues and original buildings were broken, burned, and looted before being covered up by centuries of sediment. Here’s a partially excavated section from one of the other pits:

Partially excavated pit

Partially excavated pit

Here are some of the figures that are in process of being restored – you can see how different their faces are:

Terracotta warriors being reconstructed

Terracotta warriors being reconstructed

The museum has a few of the different types of warriors in glass cases so you can see them up close, like this archer:

Terracotta Warriors museum - archer

Terracotta Warriors museum – archer

You can see the detail of the shoe, and a little bit of the remaining paint on the back of the tunic:

Terracotta Warriors museum - archer

Detail of archer’s foot and tunic

As part of this excursion, we also visited the Pottery Factory, where replicas of the warriors are made for retail sale. As with the originals, there are different molds for the heads, torsos, hands, etc., which are fired and assembled.

Pottery Factory, Xi'an

Pottery Factory, Xi’an

The smallest figurines are made in a single mold, but even those are hand-finished to remove the mold markings and add a few details:

Pottery Factory, Xi'an

Pottery Factory, Xi’an

The “Pottery” factory wasn’t just pottery. They also had hand-painted furniture (you could watch people painting some of the pieces), and some lovely embroidered artwork. These are NOT paintings – they are entirely made in embroidery. (Sorry, there is a lot of glare and reflection in the glass)

Silk embroidery "paintings"

Silk embroidery “paintings”

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5 Responses to China: Terracotta Warriors

  1. Ann says:

    Thank you for such a great post today. My husband is going to Xian in 2 months to help our daughter and family bring back our 3rd adopted grandson who happens to live there and he’s really looking forward to seeing this exhibit. I’m going to have him read it later today.

  2. zeneedle says:

    You captured the scope of the project to reclaim the terracotta warriors. What a massive undertaking. It must have been stunning to see.

  3. highlyreasonable says:

    What an amazing story! I’ve heard about the Terracotta Army, but never known the story behind the figures or seen photos that really convey the scope like yours do. China did (still does) many things in big ways!

  4. Kym says:

    WOW. Just . . . WOW. I remember reading about the Terracotta Army when it was first discovered, too. It’s just . . . amazing. (Words can’t really git’r’dun, can they?) I’m so glad you got a chance to see it.

  5. Chris says:

    Heh, I might be a worse commenter than you are blogger. 😉 Very cool that you got to see all of this in person!

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