Asia, China, Destinations

8,000 reasons why you should visit Xi’an – The Army of Terracotta Warriors

June 14, 2015

Even if it used to be the capital of China for about 1,000 years spread out over 11 dynasties, Xi’an doesn’t represent a touristic attraction itself.

I don’t know how many tourists would have ended up here if it wasn’t for some pottery figurines discovered by mistake by three peasants digging a water well in 1974. Those figurines turned out to be the Great Terracotta Army, the most important historical discovery of modern China and one of the most significant archaeological excavations and cultural discoveries of the twentieth century.

Clay soldier huge replica

Clay soldier huge replica

About 8,000 life-sized soldiers made of terracotta, armed, some together with their warhorses , are lined up in pits, according to their rank (generals being taller), each of them being unique with regard to facial features. In addition to the army there are acrobats, musicians, court officials and strongmen. In other words, everything needed to serve, amuse and defend the Emperor in the afterlife. Apparently the first emperor of the Qin Dynasty, about 200 years BC, thought that this army buried alongside him will protect him in the afterlife. However, I tend to believe the other explanation, saying that it represented the elite army that the First Emperor was going to command in the world after his death. Probably that also explains why concubines, clerks, scribes, cooks, personal servants and minor court officials were buried alive with him.

Terracotta Army interesting fact: the actual tomb of the Emperor is yet to be unsealed. The Chinese government believes that it is better to wait before digging the tomb, so that excavation techniques and technology can advance significantly, ensuring the job is done properly. Recent analysis revealed high levels of mercury contained in the soil above the mausoleum, which sustaining some stories suggesting that there are moats filled with mercury flowing through the tomb to represent China’s great rivers (Yellow River and Yangtze River) and even the ocean, the whole thing being powered by a special mechanism to keep them moving forever. But it might very well be just peoples imagination gone wild.


Investigation led to the conclusion that all the heads were made from one of 8 molds, and then individual features such as mouth, nose and hairstyle were added by hand when the fully assembled warrior was placed in the pit.

It is a very popular destination even for the locals, judging by the huge number of coaches in the parking lot.

But what else is there besides the the Terracotta Warriors. I would say that three days would be perfect time allocation for Xi’an. This is how you can spend them:

Day 1: can be used to explore the area around the City Wall, the Muslim area (better in the evening), the Bell Tower and the Drum Tower, etc.,

Day 2: entirely devoted to seeing the Terracotta Warriors. My advice is to go to see the Terracotta Warriors in Xi’an early in the morning. You should know that the museum is about 40 min drive outside the city of Xi’an. You can go there by public bus 306 from the train station, by taxi  or you can join a group tour. In the evening you can see the Tang Dynasty show, for example.

Day 3: for the Wild Goose Pagoda, Shaanxi History Museum, shopping, etc.

The big goose pagoda in xian

Big Goose pagoda Xian

If you are looking for local handicrafts, you can find plenty primitive paintings, local embroidery and paper cuttings.

Xi’an was the starting point in the Silk Road, and that was the reason why a large Arabic community has settled here. You can see their influence everywhere in Xi’an but especially in the Muslim quarter. The interesting mix between the two races is obvious not only in their physiognomy, but also in the food, where a popular dish is an adapted kebab.

Group of women dressed in chefs clothing having a break outside their shop in Xian Muslim Qarter

Group of women dressed in chefs clothing in Muslim Quarter, Xian


If you’d have to guess what is mounted on this bike, I’m sure a photo lab would not be high on your list, but that’s really what it is. A printer connected to a battery is all the photographer needs in order to deliver a snapshot on paper in a matter of minutes:

Photo lab mounted on a bike in Xian

Portable photo lab

At lunch time, this is a normal sight. People carrying their take away meals in plastic bags:


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