After a quick shower and rather strange breakfast in our Xi’an hotel, we were taken by our guide (Nigh – pronounced “nee”, as in “I’ve got nee money left to buy any more tatt”) and driver (Mr Hoo) to see the terracotta warriors. This has been something of an ambition of mine to see, so after the long journey to get there, I was getting really quite excited. However, as I’ve come to expect, there was more important business to attend to first: a trip to the ‘official’ ‘fake’ terracotta warriors factory.
This is apparently the only factory officially licensed to reproduce the statues as souvenirs and also produces reproduction life-size ones for displays, exhibitions, etc. After a 2 minute tour by one of their own ‘artists’, we were taken to the obligatory showroom where he did his best to try to sell us a life-sized warrior, shipped directly to the UK, including all insurances and fees, for approx £2000. Tempting, but we resisted. Instead we settled on two 30cm high statues for a lot less. Suckers, I know.
Then, we went to see the real thing. We arrived in the South Gate car park, where the tickets are purchased. The first thing I noticed was a stall selling fur: row after row of pelts in various colours. Nice. The museum itself however, is inside the North gate, a 10 minute walk away. So, off we went, passing stall after stall of souvenir vendors, selling warriors (I didn’t dare check prices, but at least I knew mine were genuine fakes), jade and, bizarrely, the occasional German Shepherd dog statue. Strange.
Eventually, we reached the North Gate. WOW. There are three pits in all, each within a large building. The first, and probably the most well known, is like being inside an aircraft hangar, with rows and rows of these amazing soldiers in formation. We stood and stared for ages, it is utterly mesmerising. Towards the rear of the pit is an area which is still being excavated (all this work takes place during the night), with heads, limbs and armour poking out of piles of earth. There is also a collection of ‘jigsaw’ soldiers, which are being painstakingly pieced together. It must be an archaeologist’s dream job.
Pits 2 and 3 are equally fascinating, if less jaw-dropping. Pit 2 is still largely un-excavated, but with small sections exposed to reveal more of the same piles of broken statues, this time with the odd horse poking out here and there. Pit 3 is much smaller but exposed in amazing detail, showing horses and generals and the original tiled floor on which they were all set out.
We finished with a look around the 4th building, a museum containing other relics found on the site, including bronze horses and chariots, and some of the weapons which the soldiers would have been carrying. Unfortunately due to being made of wood, these have not survived. Our guide, Nigh, was of course very knowledgeable and happy to wait whilst we just stood and stared (and Paul took photo after photo).
After lunch on the way back down to the South Gate, we passed more fur vendors, this time noticing much larger pelts. “Bear” I suggested? Apparently not. Only when I saw the ears and nose did I realise the relevance of the “Sascha” statues. All of a sudden Nigh seemed at a loss for answers to my questions. Perhaps I’m lucky that I’ve now spent so long here and not been challenged by such things, but it was rather an upsetting end to an otherwise amazing day.