Completed around 210 BC at his death, the tomb of Emperor Qin Shi Huang is the equal of any pyramid. The tomb is located in Xi’an and represents one of the world’s foremost archaeological sites. No pharaoh built a burial chamber with over 8,000 warriors standing guard over his riches.
Xi’an was the provincial capital of Shan’Xi Province for over 1,000 years. It is the starting point of the famed Silk Road, which was the trading route used by travelers for centuries. Today, most visitors come for the view of the emperor’s tomb and Terracotta Warriors within.
Arrayed in three separate areas, there is a fourth devoid that has no figures (though no one knows why). Some warriors are lined up in formation, others sit atop horses. Many others are standing inside chariots. The smallest of the three pits is 64,500 square feet and holds 1,400 figures. But the larger area is huge: 6,000 warriors stand on over 172,000 square feet. The third area is mostly statues of officers, managing chariots drawn by four enormous horses.
The statues are not all cut from the same mold. The figures have different heights and facial features. The uniforms vary and many carry real weapons of the period. Sometimes known as Qin’s Army, the clay for the six foot statues was composed from the surrounding hills. Six feet high may not sound tall today. But to the Chinese 2,000 years ago, they were near giants. They were once preserved and painted with a colorful lacquer, but it has now all worn off.
The construction project spanned 35 years and employed hundreds of thousands of workers. Many of them were buried in the tomb just as ancient workers on the pyramids were. Near the main tomb is a 250 foot/76m high pyramid of clay. It held rooms, hallways and other architectural features. Though one can only guess at the purpose, it may have served as a kind of construction project administrative center.
It isn’t just the warriors that are impressive, though. The horses on which many are mounted are festooned with gems. Pearls stud the ceiling in the shape of the constellations as they were at the time. Many of the jewels are missing today, a result of theft.
Over the centuries the tomb and pyramid has suffered looting, fire and decay just as most archaeological sites have. Surprisingly, the tomb can be seen much as it must have been at the time. Much of that is the result of the careful restoration efforts.
Though nowhere near as old as the pyramids of Egypt, these statues continue to inspire awe over 2,000 years later, even if they are made of baked clay. This magnificent find was discovered accidentally in 1974 by some local fishermen digging a well. The word soon got to archaeologists who have been excavating it ever since. Visit The Terracotta Warriors and you’ll readily see why.