There’s no doubt that the main reason visitors travel to Xi’an is to see the infamous Terracotta Warriors (although a second trip is surely called for by the awesome and cheap street eats).
This amazing site is a mausoleum built in the 3rd century BCE for Emperor Qin Shi Huang. Each of the thousands of iconic terracotta warriors was hand carved by enslaved workers who were killed (with their families) if their work did not meet the emperor’s standards.
See the small base each warrior is standing on? This had the name of the craftsman who carved it. If your work didn’t meet expectations you and your family were killed
The result is a beautiful but haunting collection of thousands of terracotta warriors, each with a unique facial expression and design along with hundreds of weapons, horses, and chariots. This UNESCO World Heritage was originally found by farmers who (rumor has it) are now very, very wealthy following their discovery.
This warrior has some of the remnants of the original paint– each warrior was not just hand carved, but handpainted. Unfortunately, when the site was excavated much of the paint disintegrated when it was exposed to the air
wounded warriors waiting for repair
massive site still waiting for excavation — there’s still so much more to discover!
I found the experience to be thrilling — not only because of the rich history behind the warriors but also because I loved being at an active archaeological site. As a kid I somehow came up with a fantasy of one day being an archaeologist and dusting off dinosaur bones or Egyptian tombs. I distinctly remember when I finally had access to a computer and the internet, looking up jobs as an archaeologist online only to find that sadly there seemed to be an extremely limited demand for the job and for my second choice, history or natural science museum curator.
Although the work is surely less glamorous and less thrilling as kid-Pristine thought, I still have a bit of that fantasy left in my mind and it would have been fascinating to see the archaeologists at the Terracotta Warriors site at work (the archaeologists work during the week and we visited on a Saturday).
Cavalryman with saddled horse
High Ranking Officer
Middle Ranking Officer
Visiting Terracotta Warriors
Opening hours: 8:30am–5:30pm; –5pm off-peak
Entry: 90 RMB (March 1 – November 30); otherwise 65 RMB. Children under 1.2m: free of charge.
1. Hire a Guide
We learned so much about the site and about the warriors and were able to move at our own pace according to what we found interesting (or less so) because of our guide. There are audio guides available at the site, but I’ve heard the english versions are not very good so that’s definitely a Plan B! A guide also helps you plan the best time to visit to avoid large crowds. We arrived late morning on a Saturday which I would have assumed would be one of the busiest periods but did not find it to be super crowded (at least not by Hong Kong standards!).
There are multiple opportunities at the complex to pay for photos with faux terracotta warriors or other statues, but these cost extra. You’ll also be approached by multiple people outside the main site asking if you want to purchase a set of miniature terracotta warriors. I don’t usually purchase these types of things, but I couldn’t resist. Do not pay more than 10 RMB for a full set (~US$1.54)! If your purchase any other souvenirs — haggle haggle haggle
3. Skip the tomb of Qin Shi Huang
And enjoy the main mausoleum grounds instead– they are gorgeous! There is a lot to see inside the actual tomb of the emperor, but unfortunately it is not open to the public. It’s a long walk from the main terracotta warrior site to the tomb and all that you can see is an average sized hill. A better idea is if you hire a guide and driver, ask them to drive past so you can take a peek on your way back to the city.