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Visit the Terra Cotta Warriors Museum

When in Shanghai, visit the Terra Cotta Warriors Musuem, one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of the 20th century. Find more at Holland America Line.

Shanghai is one of the largest and most developed municipalities in the world. So, if you’re looking for a break from the go-go atmosphere and wish to take in one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of the 20th century, a great place to visit in Shanghai is the Terra Cotta Warriors Museum in Xi’an.

The flight to Xi’an from Shanghai via regional airline is typically a few hours in length. So, plan on leaving early to get the most out of your day there. Upon arrival in Xi’an, tourist bus or taxi (official green-colored) are the best ways to get to the site.

The Emperor’s Warriors

In 1974, a group of local farmers digging a well in Xi’an unearthed a curious sight, a life-sized clay soldier in full battle regalia. After notifying authorities, archaeologists rushed to the spot, sure that something unique was to be found. What thy uncovered was an entire army of thousands of terra cotta warriors in military formation, complete with armor, bronze weapons, as well as clay horses and chariots. It was later discovered that the warriors are actually a part of the vast burial site of the first Qin Dynasty emperor, Qin Shi Huang (259–210 B.C.).

Known as China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huang was the first to unify what were once warring states into a country. Among his many achievements, he established a centralized government, standardized money, awarded positions based upon ability not nobility, and Qin Shi Huang built the first portion of the Great Wall.

There are two theories as to why the emperor chose to have a life-sized, artificial army buried with him. One surmises that Qin Shi Huang feared evil spirits that awaited him in the afterlife, and therefore needed the army’s protection. The other theory is that he thought his power so great, Qin Shi Huang would reign on even in the afterlife — and what is an emperor without his army?

Museum and Archaeological Site

Covering nearly 20,000 square yards of space, The Museum of Qin Terra Cotta Warriors and Horses divides the display into three sections, to coordinate with the three primary excavations done on the site.

Pit One is the largest: Housed within a huge, arched hall and with 2,000 figures on display (6,000 are thought to be here), the battle-ready formation composed of infantry and cavalry is divided equally into three lines. Weapons, including bronze spears, swords, and axes, have been removed and are housed within their own exhibit hall. Pits Two and Three are smaller and contain warriors, horses, command elements, as well as archers. Two stunning bronze chariots with horses are on display in their own hall next to Pit Two; these were unearthed at another nearby site.

A Forbidden Tomb

The entire mausoleum complex of Qin Shi Huang covers nearly 22 square miles, and to date only a small percentage of the site has been excavated. Less than two miles away from the terra cotta warriors stands the still unexcavated tomb of the emperor. Accounts from the emperor’s time say it contains entire palaces, untold amounts of precious stones, sailing ships, and artificial rivers coursing through mountains of bronze. However, these stories also state the rivers are composed of mercury, and tests done on the site have revealed dangerously high levels of the element. Initial probes of the burial mount have revealed underground chambers. However, any full-scale excavations of the tomb are on hold until archaeologists can devise a way to enter this highly complex, and toxic, site.

Quick Facts

  • No two terra cotta warriors have the same face — each one is unique.
  • Each statue was painted in detail; though most today are gray, some examples still show remnants of their color.
  • Approximately 700,000 workers were involved in constructing the burial complex. A worker uprising a year after the emperor’s death ended the project prematurely — leaving portions unfinished, as can be seen at the warrior museum.

Travel Tips

  • Shuttle buses are available to take visitors between the warrior museum and the tomb site.
  • An audio program guide is available to visitors, but local guides can be hired at the museum’s entrance and provide much more detail about the site.
  • It is recommended to avoid the site during China’s National Day Holiday (October 1–7) and on the Labor Day Holiday (May 1–3), as it is often overrun with crowds.

China’s cultural treasures await — book a Shanghai cruise today with Holland America Line.