Terracotta Army

The Terracotta Army of Qin Shi Huang, located 40 km northeast of Xi’an, is an impressive armada consisting of eight thousand life-size statues of soldiers and horses. To protect the tomb of the emperor of Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor to unify imperial China, it is a form of funerary object in the shape of soldiers and horses (chariots, horses, and soldiers) buried with this illustrious personage and represented his Imperial Guard troops.

The discovery of the Terracotta Army is vital because of the information it gives historians about daily life in the Chinese Qin dynasty. The figures show armor and weapons, and the tomb contains many artifacts such as chariots, weapons, pottery, and the human remains of the workers who built it. They had sat untouched underground for more than 2,200 years. As part of the complex, more than 700,000 laborers constructed a life-size terra cotta army and tomb complex, which took them an estimated 40 years to finish.

Estimates were that the three pits containing the Terracotta Army held more than 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses, and 150 cavalry horses, the major part of which remained buried in the pits near Qin Shi Huang’s mausoleum.

The statues of the infantry soldiers range in size between 1.7 m (5 ft 8 in) and 1.9 m (6 ft 2 in). The commanders are all 2 m (6.5 ft) tall. The lower halves of the kiln-fired ceramic bodies were made of solid terracotta clay, the upper halves were hollow, and human remains have never been found inside.

The terracotta officers wear distinctive headgear, dual or single-layer knee-length gowns, pants, a pair of shoes, and are covered with a piece of colorful armor, looking grand and awe-inspiring. Most terracotta soldiers also wear a knee-length gown, a piece of armor, a hat or hood, pants, and shoes or boots.

The Terracotta Army Used to Be Colorful. They suffered slow oxidation giving way to humid saturation due to groundwater seepage for over 2,100 years, followed by rapid oxidation and dehydration in 1974 when the vaults were opened and exposed to the atmosphere. The color epidermis of the warriors was severely damaged, then aged and peeled off.

All the pottery warriors are facing east. According to historical records, the original ruling area of Qin was in the west, and the other states were in the east. Qin Shi Huang always planned to unify all states, so the soldiers and horses facing east might confirm his determination for unification.

As a significant archaeological discovery of the 20th century, the Terracotta Army became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987, and it is undoubtedly a must-see for all visitors to Xi’an.

A Little History

Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China, first united China in 221 BC. He was the founder to build gigantic constructions such as the Great Wall, the development of the imperial capital Xianyang (former name of Xi’an) and many palaces in the city. As soon as he took power, he began the construction of a large funeral palace and an imposing army in battle to protect the emperor.

This army was supposed to accompany Emperor Qin Shi Huang on his journey to the afterlife and allow him to maintain his status. Its tumulus is 1.5 km from the site of the buried army. Originally, the emperor’s soldiers were all equipped with weapons, but these were stolen by the insurgents during popular revolts.

It is a real underground city that contained several palaces, filled with precious stones, pearls, gold, and silver statues and is protected by ingenious defenses against intruders. It is said that the main craftsmen who worked on the construction were walled inside so that they would not reveal their secrets.

In 1974, the Terracotta Army was accidentally discovered by peasants digging a well. Since then, the numerous excavations carried out on the site have brought to light whole pages of the history of ancient and medieval China that have resurfaced from the bowels of the yellow earth of Shaanxi.

With the buried army, the mausoleum represents an area of 51 km², and it was probably, in its time, the largest mausoleum in the world.

The Terracotta Army of Xi’an is a representation of Qin state troop formation with soldiers and chariots strategically placed in the pits. So far, around 8,000 warriors, 100 chariots, 400 horses, and more than 100,000 weapons have been discovered in the three pits. At the front of the formation are three rows of crossbowmen capable of launching a long-range attack. The main force formed by infantry and tanks follows after. On either side of this formation is the cavalry troop intended to outflank the enemy.

The site is therefore divided into three pits:
The first presents an army facing east towards the territories conquered by the emperor. Several thousand infantry deployed in nine columns were cleared, as well as combat tanks.

The second pit contains an assembly of independent army corps (archers, cavalry, infantry, and war chariots).

The third smaller pit (500m²) in the shape of a U represents the headquarters from where the general staff maneuvered the entire army.

At the entrance to the site, two magnificent bronze carts give an overview of the know-how of the craftsmen of the time.

Useful information

Chinese Name: 秦始皇兵马俑
Opening time:
High season (16/03-15/11): 08h30-17h00
Low season (16/11-15/03): 8h30-16h00
Ticket prices:
High season (01/03-30/11): 150 RMB/per.
Low season (01/12-28/02): 120 RMB/pers.
Recommended length of visit: Half-day

Share this article