If you’ve never been to Xi’an, you’re missing one of the world’s greatest wonders. This ancient megacity is one of the four great dynastic capitals of China. The two Chinese characters making up the name of Xi’an mean “Western Peace;” ironic given that it is the location of the Terra Cotta Army of Emperor Qin Shi Huang.
Discovered only in 1974 by local farmers digging a well, the terra cotta warriors of Xi’an have become one of the most awe-inspiring funerary art forms in the world today. Built around 210 BCE, the pottery figures were buried with the emperor to protect him in the afterlife. The scale of the burial site is impressive. As you first enter the enclosure covering Pit 1 – the largest of four that have been uncovered – it’s like walking into a football stadium.
To date approximately 2,000 warriors and horses, along with about 20 wooden chariots, have been unearthed in a space of about 4,000 square meters. This is only a small proportion of the total area still to be uncovered, which is anticipated to include more than 6,000 warriors and horses and 50 chariots in an area of over 14,000 square meters. Even more impressive is that the figures aren’t simply copies of each other; there are warriors representing middle and high ranking officers, cavalrymen (with their steeds), archers, infantrymen, and war chariots, all ready to march into battle to protect their emperor. Two other pits contain what appear to be a military guard and a command center. A fourth pit is empty and presumably was a work in progress.
You can’t help but stare in awe at the massive clay army lined up in 11 corridors making up the expanse of Pit 1. The more intimate views of Pits 2 and 3 are equally inspiring. But in a way, all these views are misleading. When the pits were first located the figures were largely broken into pieces, some large, some miniscule. Workers have spent myriad hours cataloging the shards and reconstructing the figures.
I’ll explore the reconstruction in Part II of this series on the terra cotta warriors, including a revelation about what colors were discovered. Yes, I said colors. Tune in for more in Part II.
David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate. His next book, Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, is scheduled for release in summer 2017.