Xi’an, pronounced ‘See an’, is another big city and considered to be the gateway to Western China. Everything heading there goes through Xi’an, roads, rails etc. Though I find it hard to believe as China is such an expansive country.
Xi’an boasts the biggest drum in China. The 700 year old city wall still stands in it’s entirety and the drum tower was once used every day at 7pm to tell everyone who was not royalty, dignitary or military to leave the confines of the wall.
The town wall is over 12m high and wide. It is made of stone bricks held together with mortar made from cement, sticky rice and kiwi juice and replaced the old wall destroyed in a war. I cycled around it. Took nearly 2hrs. I was rewarded with exceptional views of the city, the internal area being more traditional smaller buildings and the external city is mostly residential tower blocks that are a common sight in all the cities of China. 1.4 billion people have to live somewhere.
There is a Muslim area here, it’s where the silk road starts, or ends depending on your view. No one looks Muslim there. There is a market though where haggling skills are essential. If they start at 200 yuan, you start at 20.
Everything is more expensive here. We had street food that was really good, despite the potentially sketchy hygiene. It was from the muslim market, so it was labelled ‘orthodox beef’ and not the more common pork.
We went to see the Terracotta Army. They call it the eighth wonder of the world and they are not wrong. Some of our group were quite disinterested yet this was the main reason for me to visit China. It was only a half day. I could’ve stayed the whole day.
We learned that the farmers who discovered them initially reburied what they found whilst digging a well. They eventually turned in what they found hoping for money. £2.50ish.
Once the government looked at the find they sent people to excavate. It turned out to be the mausoleum of the first emperor. The soldiers were lined up and sealed in when he died along with insurmountable wealth, a considerable amount of mercury and a bunch of live concubines. He had commissioned the work long before he died. People must have spent their entire working lives dedicated to the Terracotta Army. A year after he died there was an uprising and the area was destroyed. The soldiers were smashed and the timbers supporting the roof were burnt. The tomb is apparently untouched.
2200 years went by before the soldiers saw daylight again. Only 1 soldier out of 7000 survived in tact. They have three pits open so far. The second of which is relatively untouched. They have learnt from the previous work that the soldiers are painted but that paint is destroyed quickly once it touches the air. The same applies to the actual tomb of the emporer. Previously, more recent tombs have been opened to find manuscripts and art works that all crumble in the humid air. This find is so important that they are willing to wait until they can be certain to preserve everything exactly as they find it.
The soldiers are an awesome sight. You can see the restored ones standing as they once did but without their weapons, which did not survive. You can see piles of soldier parts that lay as they found them, realising the devastation that was done for yourself. There could be as many as 20 pits to uncover. Who knows what else will emerge from the dig in the future?
They have a 360 degree cinema that shows you the story of their birth and death and a VR experience that I didn’t get to try. Just walking around the main pit was enough for me. The longer you look the more you you realise the differences between each soldier. The hair, face, eyes, beards, clothes and shoes are all different. They all dressed according to rank and job as such an army would, were it real. Even the horses all have different expressions and facial structures. The detail is astounding.
Half a day was not enough and we begrudgingly had to leave to return to the hostel.
In the evening we went to the big goose pagoda. It was lovely and they have this huge square fountain. At 8pm they do a light and water show. It was fun but pailed in comparison to one of the greatest and most intriguing archaeological finds in history.