My Winter Travels, Part 15: Xi'an

Xi'an Picasa Photo Album
After we spent Spring Festival in Beijing, we took a sleeper train to Xi'an in Shaanxi province. Sleeper trains in China are great--it saves you the cost of staying at a hotel, and you wake up in the morning at your location. If you ever travel in China, I highly recommend you travel by sleeper train. Xi'an has one of the longest and most impressive histories of any city in the world--it has been the capital of 13 Chinese Dynasties, beginning from before the birth of Christ. Yet for some reason, it's not a well-known city in the west (I had never heard of it before coming to China). Overall, I'd say Xi'an might have been my favorite place we visited on the trip--primarily because of the Army of Terracotta Warriors, one of the most amazing things I've ever seen. We spent 3 full days in Xi'an, before we took a sleeper train back to Beijing on February 22nd.

Xi'an City Walls

On our first day in Xi'an, we visited the ancient city walls of Xi'an. The current city walls were built in the 14th century. Much of the city of Xi'an is outside the walls today, but most of the historical buildings and interesting sights are within the city walls. Some pictures:

The city walls had some decorations along the southern portion of it. I think it was just there for Spring Festival.

The southeast corner of the city walls.

We rented bicycles and biked the entire 8.7 miles around the city walls.

There were various battlements and guard towers at regular intervals.

I think this was some kind of ancient catapult.

The city walls stretch for as far as the eye can see...

We rounded out our first day in Xi'an by doing some souvenir shopping and walking through the Muslim quarter (Xi'an is home to a very large Muslim population).

The Army of Terracotta Warriors

On our second day in Xi'an, we visited the Army of Terracotta Warriors, our main reason for visiting Xi'an. In the 3rd century B.C., Qin Shi Huang unified China and became China's first emperor. He began many construction projects (including the initial version of the Great Wall of China), one of which was a grand mausoleum where he was buried. Being a mad tyrant, he had his laborers build him a grand army to guard his tomb. More than 6,000 unique, individual statues were built and buried. The army lay unknown for over 2,000 years before being discovered by a farmer in 1974. It's turned out to be perhaps the greatest archaeological find of the 20th century (the Dead Sea Scrolls would also rank up there).

Pictures don't do the terracotta warriors justice. There are some things in the world that look just as good (or maybe even better) in a photograph than in person. The terracotta warriors are not one of them--seeing it in person is breath taking. Some pictures:

Pit #1. There are about 10 rows of these statues.

Different statues were different kinds of warriors. This one was an archer. They've taken all the bronze weapons and put them in a vault for now.

Lots of the warriors were headless. This is from pit #3 were the warriors were arranged like they are officers in the military command center.

Each warrior has a unique face.

They also found a bronze chariot with 4 horses.

China likes to toot its own horn, and it was no exception here. They say they have no record of the warriors (and hence were completely unknown until the farmer found them), and yet somehow they know it took 700,000 workers 38 years to construct it. Where does a number like that come from? They also make some pretty extravagant claims about the nearby tomb of Emperor Qin, where there are supposedly tons of gold and buried treasure beneath the giant mound. But they haven't opened it up because they say we don't yet have the technology to properly excavate it and keep all the artifacts from corroding. I think its just as likely that there's nothing impressive there--either because there never was or because grave robbers have taken all of it.

Shaanxi History Museum

On our last day in Xi'an, we visited the Shaanxi History Musuem. The museum has artifacts from all of China's known history. Here are a couple of the more interesting items:

We also saw several other things in Xi'an that I would not recommend. If you ever visit Xi'an, make sure you see the above three things, but don't bother with the Tomb of Qin Shihuang, Banpo Neolithic Village or the Huaqing Pool.

After our three days in Xi'an, we took a sleeper train back to Beijing, where we wrapped up the trip with a visit to the Great Wall and Beijing's Hutongs.
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About Me

Husband and father, lapsed musician, software engineer at Square, open source developer, world traveler and Christian.