Xian's Terracotta Warriors and Horses (other names: Terracotta Army, Terracotta Soldiers) has astounded the world with their artistry and sheer numbers since its excavation in 1974 and has been regarded as the Eighth Wonder of the World. Added to the UNESCO's World Cultural Heritage List in 1987, this over 2200 years old ghost army is no doubt a great archaeological discovery which brings the world an insight to the ancient China. Any Xian tour without a visit to this attraction is not complete.
The exquisite Terracotta Warriors
Site: The Qin Terra-cotta Warrior Figures & Horses Museum (in Chinese：秦陵兵马俑博物馆)
Address: Qinling North Road, Lintong District, Xi'an 710600, China
Location: About 35 kilometers northeast of Xian, about 50 minutes’ drive
When the museum was built: 1975
When the museum was open: October, 1979
Opening hours: 8:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m.
Touring time: 2 - 4 hours
Why and when it was made
1.5 kilometers away from the site of the Terracotta Warriors and Horses lies the mausoleum of the Emperor Qin Shi Huang (259-210 B.C.), the first unifier of the ancient China and the founding emperor of the Qin Dynasty (221-206 B.C.). Qin Shi Huang took the throne in 246 B.C. and started to build the mausoleum, which is said to be a grand complex that mirrors the urban plan of the capital at that time - Xianyang and now remains untouched due to the complex conditions inside. As a part of the mausoleum, the Terracotta Army was constructed to guard the mausoleum and protect the Emperor Qin Shi Huang in his afterlife.
When and how it was found
This incredible historical site was found in 1974 by accident, when a group of farmers were digging a well. A few broken clay statues were found first. Soon the archaeologists came and this buried historical treasure was unearthed. In 1975, the government built a museum right on the site. After years of surveying and excavating, more and more terracotta figures were excavated and in 1979 the museum was open to public, which leads us to taste the old days of the ancient China.
The pits and exhibition hall inside the museum
The Qin Terra-cotta Warrior Figures & Horses Museum includes the Bronze Chariots and Horses Exhibition Hall, the Circle Vision Cinema and most of all, four partially excavated pits, namely Pit No. 1, Pit No. 2, Pit No. 3 and Pit No. 4. Covering about 20, 000 square meters, this museum contains an estimated amount of 8, 000 life-size terracotta figures, including warriors, horses, chariots and some bronze weapons.
- Among these pits, Pit No. 1 is the largest and the most magnificent. Being the first place excavated in 1974, it covers an area of 14, 260 square meters and contains probably 6, 000 terracotta infantry soldiers. Pit No. 2 is the second largest (about 6, 000 square meters), excavated in 1976, and is known for its vivid and abundant cavalry figurines. Pit No. 3 was discovered in 1976 as well. It measures 520 square meters, with only 72 terracotta figures. Evidences show that it was probably the command center of the Terracotta Army. Today Pit No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 are all open to visitors while Pit No. 4 is not. Pit No. 4 is the only one that is empty and unfinished, suggesting the planned work of the Terracotta Army didn’t complete.
The magnificent Pit No. 1
The cavalry figurines in Pit No. 2
A statue with bright paint
- The Bronze Chariots and Horses Exhibition Hall is between Pit No. 1 and Pit No. 2. Discovered in 1980 and displayed in 1983, these two chariots are quite large and exact in every detail. They are copies of the Emperor's personal chariots and every detail was reproduced in bronze, from the driver's weapons to his personal adornments. There is even a box filled with small arrows to be fired by the miniature crossbow. Inside the exhibition hall, you can also find the chariots of the terracotta warriors. They are made of wood and bronze. The wooden parts rotted away long ago, but the bronze parts still exist and the workmanship is astounding.
The bronze chariots
- The Circle Vision Cinema, keeping playing a 20-minute movie about the history of the Terracotta Warriors and Horses, is in the south of Pit No. 1 and surely a great place to get a quick glimpse of the background information. You can take it as the start of your visit or as the end after seeing the warriors and horses.
Unique features of the Terracotta Warriors and Horses
More than a valuable archaeological discovery, the Terracotta Warriors and Horses itself represents the finest sculpting skill and artistic achievement at that time. Below are some distinctive features that you should not overlook.
- Uniqueness Each terracotta figure is unique and of life size. Each face is different and the hairstyles, clothing, shoes and gestures have individual characteristics. Judging from the details, the terracotta statues can be classified into archers, spearmen, infantrymen, cavalrymen, charioteers, officers, generals, etc.
- Complicated craftsmanship Each terracotta figure, intricate and exquisite, was created under complicated procedures. Archaeologists estimate that the heads, hands and legs were sculpted separately and then packaged with the bodies to form the warriors.
- With Bright painting The statues were all covered with bright paint, different from the color we see today. However, in the past over 2200 years the paint of most statues have gone and only a small amount figures are still with colors.
- Armed with real bronze weapons Though the Terracotta Warriors and Horses were grave goods. Evidences show that the soldiers did hold real weapons in hands. According to official records, 40, 000 bronze weapons have been excavated, which are valuable for archaeological studies.
Senior military official
Useful tips that you may need to know
1. How to get to the museum from the down town of Xian?
The museum lies about 35 kilometers away from the down town of Xian. You can go there by car, bus or taxi, depending on your needs.
a. Private transfer by China Odyssey Tours (about 1 hour, on high way)
This is the most comfortable and flexible way to go, with reasonable price. China Odyssey Tours specialize in private tours in China’s major tourist destinations, serving 7, 000+ customers each year. If you tour Xian with our private tour (incl. private transfer), your guide and driver will pick you up at the hotel and escort you back after sightseeing. You can save time on the road and do not need to worry about the transfer. We can even provide exclusive service as you request, such as fresh fruits, bottled water, ice bags, etc. With our experienced drivers, comfortable private vans and knowledgeable guides, you will enjoy a safe and pleasant trip.
b. By bus (about 1.5 hours, on regular road, might be a bit bumpy)
You can take Bus 306 or mini bus 914 at the East Square Train Station to the museum. It costs RMB 7 per person, surly the cheapest way to go, yet the most crowded and time-consuming. You may need to wait for a long time to squeeze into the bus and worry about when to get off because there is no English broadcasting on the bus. Not a great choice, especially in hot summer days or during national holidays.
c. By taxi (about 1 hour, on high way)
Taxi is not a common choice for foreign visitors. One reason is that it takes about RMB 200 for a single ride, quite expensive. And most taxi drivers can't speak English. Besides, to get a taxi to the museum is easy, but it may not be the same when you return because the taxi won't wait and there may not be many taxies waiting outside the museum, which is in the suburb.
2. Can I go down the pits and take photos with the Terracotta Warriors?
In order to protect these fragile and valuable terracotta statues, visitors are not allowed to go down the pits, unless with permits from related government departments. But don’t be upset, there are two places where you can get closer to the Terracotta Warriors and take pictures with them.
-Special Photographs Service in the Pit No. 1
It is at the viewpoint right in the front of Pit No. 1, the grandest pit that houses about 6, 000 terracotta warriors. A professional photographer will take a picture for you and the real Terracotta Army (your own camera is not allowed to use) and send the photo to your hotel in the evening. Each photo coasts RMB 200.
- Photographs Service in the Pit No. 3
There is a special painted wall depicting the vivid terracotta warriors, in front of which stand some artificial statues. With the wall as the background, the photo will make you look like standing among the terracotta army. You can take photos with your own cameras (RMB 10 per person) or by a professional photographer (RMB 100 per person, and you can get the photos immediately).
Visitors take photos in Pit No. 1
An archeologist is restoring
3. Can I have a glimpse of the reconstruction work?
No soldier was found intact when they were excavated. What we can see today are all painstakingly reconstructed from hundreds and sometimes thousands of shards. The reconstruction work is extremely time-consuming and usually done in closing hours. Visitors do not have a chance to see how a terracotta warrior is reconstructed. But in Pit No. 1, visitors can have a look at the area where the terracotta figures are restored in closing hours.
4. Is a lot of walking required during the visit?
To tour the museum is not physically demanding. But please note that, the entrance is about 20 minutes’ walk away from the pits, with a few stairs. Usually we suggest our clients to take the shared golf cart in and then have a leisure walk out, so as to save time and have a chance to stroll around the museum. If you don’t feel like walking, you can take a roundtrip golf cart (about 6 minutes, one way).
5. Is there a recommended route to see the pits and exhibition hall?
There is a classic route that our clients follow: Pit No. 1 → Pit No. 2 → Pit No. 3 → the Circle Vision Cinema → The Bronze Chariots and Horses Exhibition Hall. Actually, you can take any route you like to see the Terracotta Warriors and Horses, and sometimes to adjust your tour route based on the actual situation is necessary and may offer a better experience.
6. Is this attraction wheelchair accessible?
Yes, the museum is equipped with barrier-free paths, which ensures visitors who have trouble with mobility tour this museum conveniently.
7. Can I have a coffee break when visiting the Terracotta Warriors?
Of course. There are coffee shops in and outside the museum. You can stop for a rest anytime you want when visiting.
8. Can I have guide service offered by the museum?
You don’t need to worry about this if you go with our private tour. Knowledgeable and friendly, your private guide will accompany you during your visit, introduce you the highlights, and tell you what you want to know. But if you are travelling on your own and want guide service offered by the museum, please see the details below.
Guide service: You can hire a guide at Pit. No. 1; three languages to choose: English, Japanese and Mandarin; usually one guide to at most 10 visitors; charge: RMB 150 per English/Japanese-speaking guide, RMB 100 per Mandarin-speaking guide, plus a RMB 200 refundable deposit.
(Note: It is possible that these guides won’t be able to tour this attraction in your own pace like a private guide, especially in high seasons when they may be in a hurry to guide more visitors. And their spoken English, knowledge and service quality are not guaranteed as our experienced private guides)
Automatic guide: You can rent an automatic guide (a magnetic earphone) at the entrance of the museum; two languages to choose: English and Mandarin; charge: RMB 30 per automatic guide, and a RMB 500 refundable deposit.
(Note: An automatic guide only provides limited and unchangeable introductions to certain parts inside the museum. For more information and a better experience, it’s better to hire a private guide)
9. Can I see in person how a Terracotta Warrior is made?
Yes, there are some Terracotta Factories in Xian where you can see how they are made and even make a terracotta warrior on your own! These factories also sell artificial Terracotta Warriors and related souvenirs. If you are interested, you can spend some time to pick and buy. If not, you can just focus on the terracotta making. This activity is unique and fun, especially recommended for student groups or tour groups with children.
So fun to make your own terracotta warriors!