The Terracotta Army in Xi’an — 2,000-Year-Old Underground Army


The Terracotta Army has laid underground for more than 2,000 years. However, in 1974, farmers digging a well uncovered one of the greatest archaeological sites in the world. In 1987 it became World Cultural Heritage.

It is significant because the hundreds of detailed life-size models represent the army that triumphed over all other Chinese armies in the Warring States Period (475–221 BC), and who were the decisive factor in forming a united China. It raises interesting questions about why it was made, which await your consideration when you come face-to-face with soldiers of the past.

The Terracotta Army is regarded as one of the greatest discoveries of the 20th century, and is famous around the world. But do you know who built it and how long it took to finish? Here we have listed the top 10 amazing facts you should know before you visit this UNESCO World Heritage Site.

1. It is one of the top archaeological finds of the 20th century.

The Terracotta Army is part of the world’s largest ancient imperial tomb complex, Qin Shi Huang’s mausoleum. About 8,000 different life-size statues have been uncovered. It is the largest find of its kind.

The statues are 175–190 cm tall. Every one differs in gestures and facial expressions, some even with color showing. It reveals much about the Qin Empire’s technology, military, arts, culture, and military.

2. It is described as “the Eighth Wonder of the World”.

In September 1987, the Terracotta Army was praised as the Eighth Wonder of the World by the former French President Jacques Chirac.

He said: “There were Seven Wonders in the world, and the discovery of the Terracotta Army, we may say, is the eighth miracle of the world. No one who has not seen the pyramids can claim to have visited Egypt, and now I’d say that no one who has not seen these terracotta figures can claim to have visited China.”

3. It was constructed over 2,200 years ago.

The Terracotta Army was created by China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huang, who began the construction of the army in 246 BC after he (then aged 13) ascended the throne.

It was an afterlife army for Emperor Qin. It was believed that objects like statues can be animated in the afterlife.

Thousands of years later, the soldiers are still standing and showcase an extraordinary level of craftsmanship and artistry from 2,200 years ago.

4. Terracotta Army Museum mainly consists of three vaults.

Currently, the museum mainly consists of three pits and an exhibition hall: Vault One, Vault Two, Vault Three, and the Exhibition Hall of the Bronze Chariots.

  • Vault 1: It is the largest and most impressive (about 230 x 60 m) — the size of an airplane hangar. There are over 6,000 terracotta figures of soldiers and horses, but less than 2,000 are on display.
  • Vault 2: It is the highlight of the vaults (about 96 x 84 m) and uncovers the mystery of the ancient army array. It has the most army units with archers, chariots, mixed forces, and cavalry.
  • Vault 3: It is smallest, but very important (21 x 17 m). There are only 68 terracotta figures, and all of them are officials. It represents the command post.
  • The Exhibition Hall of the Bronze Chariots: It contains the world’s largest and most intricate ancient bronze artifacts. Each carriage had about 3,400 parts and 1,234 kg. There were 1,720 pieces of golden and silver ornaments, weighting 7 kg, on each carriage.

5. It’s not just soldiers.

Since the discovery of the Terracotta Army, more than 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots, and 670 horses have been uncovered.

Terracotta musicians, acrobats, and concubines have also been found in recent pits as well as some birds, such as waterfowl, cranes, and ducks. It is believed that Emperor Qin wanted exactly the same grand services and treatment for his afterlife.

6. Over 700,000 laborers took about 40 years to complete the statues.

Construction of the Terracotta Warriors began in 246 BC, when Qin Shi Huang assumed the Qin State throne, and ended in 206 BC, 4 years after Qin’s death, when the Han Dynasty began.

Over 700,000 laborers worked around-the-clock for approximately 40 years to complete the terracotta army and tomb complex.

7. It was discovered by local farmers.

The Terracotta Army remained untouched underground for more than 2,200 years and was discovered by chance by local farmers while digging a well in 1974 in Xi’an.

This discovery prompted Chinese archaeologists to investigate, revealing the greatest archaeological site in China.

8. Amazingly, no two figures are exactly alike.

If the huge number of terracotta warriors does not surprise you, you should take a close look at them. You will be amazed at the delicate craftsmanship and surprised to find that no two figures are exactly alike.

Each warrior has unique facial features. The infantry, archers, generals, and cavalry are different in their expressions, clothing, and hairstyles.

Do you want to know How the Terracotta Figures Were Made?

9. There are more terracotta figures to come!

Currently, there are four pits in total, and from three of them terracotta figures have been unearthed. But never think that that is the extent of the site.

The army is only part of a garrison in Qin Shi Huang’s mausoleum, which covers nearly 56 square kilometers. Most of it remains unearthed. Excavation and restoration of terracotta figures is ongoing. More terracotta figures are about to be unearthed.

10. Over 5 million tourists visited the site in 2015.

The Terracotta Army is a world famous site and always crowded with a large number of visitors, especially on weekends and during Chinese public holidays.

In 2015, over 5 million people visited the site, and there were over 400,000 visitors during the week of the National Day holiday (October 1–7).

So get ready to see a museum flooded with Chinese and foreign tourists. If you travel with us, your guide will tell you the best time to visit and lead you to the best viewing points.

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