They lay dormant for over 2000 years, buried beneath the ground, battered and destroyed. Then in 1974, whilst digging a well, local farmers from Lintong county (near) discovered small fragments of baked clay. Recognising that these were more than just old pots they called in the authorities who then began excavations that have continued until the present. Those fragments led to one of the most significant discoveries of the 20th Century; what we now know as the Terracotta Warriors. A often cited as the Eighth Wonder of the World.
Construction of the Underground Army started over 2000 years ago, took over 70,000 people and was intended to protect the first emperor, Qin Shi Huang, in his afterlife. However, shortly after his demise it was destroyed presumably by the succeeding Han Dynasty soldiers. There are several circles of thought explaining the destruction of the Underground Army, ranging from superstitious beliefs to simple collapse of the burial pit.
Since 1974 the laborious task of piecing together the Terracotta Warriors has slowly been taking place, beginning with the least damaged pieces first, followed by the smaller more difficult pieces. What you can actually see at the site is merely a fraction of the original army.
The site is divided into 3 main pits. There is also a cinema and a exhibition hall. We recommend you visit in the order given below.
The film is shown continually throughout the day. The footage is always the same but the soundtrack alternates between Mandarin and English. This may change if a guide knows the staff and requests their group be shown the appropriate show. The film is worth seeing as it does bring to life some of the story behind the creation and destruction of the Terracotta Warriors - though a considerable amount of artistic licence has been taken.
Where the film does succeed is in the portrayal of the effort required to produce thousands of individually carved, painted Terracotta Warriors and Horses. Do not forget this effort as you walk around the site nor to question the state of mind that conceived of this project.
The largest pit, displays some 1000 warriors. Stood in battle formation, the soldiers at the front of the pit are those that have already been reconstructed, whilst the ones at the back, are those still under reconstruction. The plastic bowls contain fragments believed to belong to the figure in question. Many of the ones in the middle have not been uncovered yet and, in fact, progress does seem to have halted over the past few years. Perhaps it is more the case that attentions are focussed on other issues now that an impressive site is open and successful.
Although the second pit seems relatively empty, it should be noted that this pit contains over 1000 soldiers and horses beneath the earth. The main attraction of this pit are several fully reconstructed soldiers and horses, where guides often explain in detail the unique features about each aspect of the construction and elements of the Underground Army.
The final pit is regarded as the headquarters. Organised in a command formation and originally containing various bronze weapons and decorations, the third pit is deeper and smaller than the other two.
There is a fourth pit located within the site. Although not marked, look for a small white line painted on the ground, this represents the intended boundaries for the pit. It is believed that the first emperor, Qin Shi Huang, died before this fourth pit could be completed, hence only the outline can be seen.
Do not miss the Exhibition Hall. Many of the very finest items are on display here including two amazing large-scale chariots. There are explanations in English for most items; the one referring to the advanced metallurgy incorporated in the bronze weapons stands out as fascinating.
There are various shops within the main site, including souvenir and book shops as well as snack and drinks outlets. Prices at the shops are all inflated but you may bargain, and can expect better quality items.
Once outside the gates prices quoted are significantly cheaper. You can expect the quality to be lower accordingly.
There are many stalls and also individuals walking around offering the best prices of all. You should be suspicious of the latter, they have a number of tricks to catch the unwary:
Do remember that the traders with stalls and shops, whether inside the site or out, pay licences and taxes; that accounts for much of the price differential. Supporting these legitimate traders is not allowing yourself to be ripped-off so long as you bargain well.