Sunday, January 20, 2013

China - Day 4 - Trip To Xi'An & The Terracotta Warriors

On Monday, our last day in China, we took an early morning flight from Beijing to Xi'An, a city about 570 miles southwest of Beijing. The flight time was just over 90 minutes and we arrived in Xi'An at 9:30 am. We met up with Clarence (our driver/guide) and set off immediately to see the Terracotta Warriors.

The Terracotta Warriors are part of a collection of terracotta figurines including soldiers, chariots and horses that were unearthed in the Lintong District, east of Xi'an in the Shaanxi province. These life-size figurines are meant to depict the army of the first Emperor of China (Qin Shi Huang) and were created and then buried in front of the Emperor's tomb to protect and defend him for eternity in the afterlife. The Warriors date back to the late third century B.C. and were only discovered in March 1974 by a group of peasants digging a well for water.  Although there had been earlier reports of pieces of terracotta figurines, roofing tiles and bricks being unearthed, no consideration was given to the reports until this discovery. Chinese archaeologists examined the site and the largest group of pottery figurines ever found in China was discovered. 
A structure has been built around each pit to protect the site from the elements and to provide shelter during the excavation and restoration process. Four pits containing the Warriors have been discovered near the Emperor's mausoleum and partially excavated. The Warriors were placed in these pits facing to the east in order to protect the Emperor from enemies in those lands that he had conquered during his reign. Pit 1 contains the main army with more than 6,000 terracotta figures. Pit 2 contains the cavalry and infantry units as well as horses and chariots and is believed to represent the military guard. Pit 3 is the command post of the army with figurines of high-ranking officers and a war chariot. Pit 4 is empty.

The photos below were taken in Pit 1 and are photos of the main army figurines. It is an amazing sight to walk into the shelter and see the rows and rows of the Terracotta Warriors in front of you.

Only a small portion of the estimated 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses that are buried in these four pits have been exposed and restored. Over time, more than 16 feet of soil and dirt accumulated over the pits and the weight caused the pits' ceilings to collapse and crush the terracotta figurines below. In some places, the damage was worse than in others. The floor of Pit 1 was paved with small bricks and there were large beams and posts to support its wooden ceiling, most of which has collapsed. The Warriors that we saw on our visit were reconstructed (or in the process of being reconstructed) from fragments of those crushed figurines.

The photo below was taken looking out over an area of the pit that is partially excavated.
The photo below is taken looking back at the front of the pit.
The photos below show areas that have been opened and are in the process of being excavated. As you can see, the Warriors were completely crushed when the ceiling of the pit collapsed. The care and effort that is put into excavating and cataloging the many thousands of pieces that are found in these pits is incredible. 
The photos below were taken in Pit 2, the pit where the cavalry men, infantry unity and the horses and chariots were placed. These photos were taken while looking down into areas where excavation and restoration work was in process. 
 It is hard to believe that this pile of pieces
 Will be restored into one of these...
The photo below is a great shot of a ceiling over a portion of the pit. It has collapsed in a couple of places but for the most part, remains intact. 
The photo below shows a partially excavated area under a ceiling that was intact. The figurines were in much better condition than those found under ceilings that had collapsed.
This is the area where the figurines that were significantly restored are placed. 
The figurines are life-size but vary in height according to their roles, with the tallest figurines being the generals. The Warriors were placed in the pits in precise military formation according to rank and duty. Most of the Warriors originally held real weapons such as spears, swords, or crossbows but those are now missing and it is believed the pits were raided soon after the Emperor's death. The Warriors were also painted in bright colors but, over time, the paint  flaked off or faded. Clarence told us that the lacquer which covers the paint will flake off about four minutes after being excavated and exposed to the air. We did see one figurine (photo below) which still had some very faint traces of paint on it but it was kept in a climate-controlled display case.
During the investigation into and excavation of the Warrior pits, a large burial ground for the Emperor was found buried underground near his tomb. The burial ground was built as a smaller version of the Emperor's imperial palace and consisted of offices, halls and stables as well as  terracotta figurines of government officials and entertainers such as acrobats, strongmen and musicians. Burial sites for horses and laborers have also been found nearby the Emperor's tomb. 

The horses and the chariot in the photos below were found in the burial ground and are thought to represent the chariot that carried the Emperor's spirit to heaven after his death.
Work on the Emperor's mausoleum began in 246 BC when he first came to power and the final construction effort is believed to have required 700,000 forced laborers. The materials used to make the terracotta figurines originated in the region and the figurines were made in workshops by local laborers and craftsmen. All of the laborers as well as the childless concubines of the Emperor were buried with the emperor to safeguard the secrets of the construction of the mausoleum. 
The exact location of the Emperor's actual tomb is still unknown but archaeologists think they are very close to discovering it. Once it is found, it is uncertain whether or not it will be opened because of concerns as to how the artifacts that might be inside will be preserved. 

The gift shop had very nice life size replicas of the warriors. Clarence told us what each figure was and its placement in the hierarchy of the army but I can't remember them all. 
I do remember that the man in the photo below was the Emperor.
 And the man in the photo below was a kneeling archer.
We had about an hour before we had to be back at the airport so Clarence took us to visit some friends of his that live in a cave near Xi'An.

The entrance to the courtyard. 

The courtyard. The cooking area is over to the right and the living areas are straight ahead.
The cave has been in this family for many generations and has expanded as needed by digging farther back into the mountain. This couple raised their children here (who now live with their families in actual homes in the village nearby) and, according to Clarence, this couple will most likely be the last of the family to live here.
The cooking area.

The stove.
Storage areas.
The entrance to the bedroom.
The master bedroom.
 Clarence explaining how the electricity is run into the cave.
 They didn't have a toilet but did have a television. I would prefer it the other way around.
 The pantry.

I was very surprised when Clarence told us that, in China, over 30 million people live in caves similar to this. This is definitely a simple lifestyle and, while it is certainly an energy efficient and environmental friendly way to live, I know for certain it wouldn't be for me. 

This wasn't the first time the kids and I had seen cave dwellings. When we lived in Australia, I took them to Coober Pedy (the Opal Capital of the World) in South Australia for a long weekend while Kevin was on business travel. In the summer, the desert temperature in Coober Pedy often exceeds 104 degrees and it is an incredibly dry environment. It is more energy & cost efficient for people to live in caves (that have constant cool temperatures) than to live above the ground and rely on air conditioning. 

Relatively speaking, the caves in Cooper Pedy were a bit more sophisticated than the one we saw in China. 
A fancy cave.
 Caitlynne and Christopher in the hallway of one cave/home.

Clarence dropped us off at the airport and we had a non-eventful flight back to Beijing. We had dinner in a local restaurant and feasted on delicious Chinese food and drank Chinese red wine which, surprisingly, wasn't all that bad. Jim, Kevin and I went back to the hotel to go to sleep while Shiv, Jan and the kids went out and painted the town red to celebrate New Year's Eve.

Next up...back to the BKK! And warmth!

Have a great Sunday!

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