Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Terra Cotta Warriors and Other Xi'an Sights

After spending nearly a week in small-town China, we hopped on a train to Xi'an.

If you're like, "What's a Xi'an?" I'll tell you the deb-o-pedia verision. Xi'an (pronounced She-On) was the original capital of China. It's still a huge city with lots of history, but it's probably most notable for being the home of the Terra Cotta Warriors. 


The first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang (remember I told you in my Great Wall post that I'd come back to him), who united China by conquering all the feudal lords in a violent fashion, was into self-preservation. He built the Great Wall to protect himself in life and the Terra Cotta Army to protect himself in death.

An hour bus ride from the Xi'an bus depot will take you to the sight of one of Qin Shi Huang's mausoleums, which houses thousands of warriors - all of them uniquely fashioned out of terra cotta. There are three pits to visit. The biggest pit (pictured above) is the most breathtaking, because it has the most restored warriors and is still undergoing daily excavation. The other two pits are deeper and have more broken parts of warriors. 

The museums on the grounds display encased samples of the different types of warriors. There are kneeling archers, standing archers, generals, infantry, cavalry, etc. It's pretty amazing. 

Plus, these were all created circa 200BC. Qin Shi Huang had a bunch of peasants create life-sized warriors to protect him in the afterlife. He died suddenly during a routine supervising tour of his work-in-progress tomb (foul play?), and then his tomb was buried by angry peasants. It stayed hidden for hundreds of years until the 1970's when a farmer found it.

And guess what? That's only a decoy tomb. Apparently there are believed to be other tombs, and he is actually buried somewhere else, but it's booby-trapped with mercury, so they can't get in. Just a little ancient genius security at work. You can read the wikipedia page for more information. 

The grounds around the archaeological pits are very pleasant. Lovely mountains, paved walkways, museums, plenty of vendors, and of course, fans of cute, western babies. 

As you can see, Daisy isn't fazed by her paparazzi fans anymore. This was actually a very mild scenario - only one couple, and they asked before taking the photos. 

Other Sights of Xi'an

Other than the warriors, Xi'an has many lovely things to do. The original city wall still stands, and apparently it's fun to explore, but we ran out of time. My parents rode bicycles around the top of it when they visited last year.

There are several monument-type structures in the city, including the drum tower and bell tower (one of them is pictured above, but I can't remember which). They are beautiful at night! I don't know this from experience, because I was too exhausted to go out at night, but I saw photos of the drum tower at night, and it was beautiful. 

A must-do in Xi'an is the Muslim Market. It's the best place to get souvenirs, street food, and just have a great cultural experience. We spent a lot of time there, because Zane liked bargaining. Of course, there's still a risk of walking in a seemingly safe, pedestrian walkway (like pictured above) when a motorbike will come honking its way through. 

One of Angela's friends owns a calligraphy shop in the market. 

Another great sight in Xi'an is the Big Goose Pagoda and fountain. Apparently this was the largest fountain in the world, but then someone went and built a bigger one. There's also a fantastic fountain/music/light show every night, but guess what? We were too tired to stay up late to see it. I just took my sister's word for it.

The walk from the base of the fountain to the pagoda is so pleasant. There are fun statues, vendors. and twinkle lights along the way. 

So, when you visit Xi'an, try not to be jet-lagged, because the city is apparently more beautiful and active at night, but we were too tired to experience it. 

A gem of an empress headband from the market. 

Travel Tips and Take-Aways

1. Stroller is good for the Terra Cotta Warriors, because there's a lot of flat area between stairs, but there are several points when you'd have to carry the stroller up stairs. I think it was worth it for all the flat walking in between stairs. 

2. Be ready to bargain in the market. I don't like bargaining, but Zane loved it and found it a fun challenge to get a great deal. 

3. Plan to see the city at night. 

4. You can find almost any western restaurant in Xi'an, so if you're over Chinese food, then you'll be okay. 

Bonus Video! 

We took a pedicab in afternoon rush hour traffic from our hotel to the fountain. It was crazy and hilarious. When we passed several jam-packed busses, we were glad we took the cart. The bus riders were glad we took the cart too, because it gave them a clear angle for their phone photos. Warning: this video is a little shaky.

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