Xian–April 20, 2013

Walking along the ancient wall.  Many of the bricks have etchings and I ask the local guide about them.  While the etchings appear old, they bricks were purchased and inscribed by people wishing to help pay for the wall restoration.

Walking along the ancient wall. Many of the bricks have etchings and I ask the local guide about them. While the etchings appear old, they bricks were purchased and inscribed by people wishing to help pay for the wall restoration.

At the beginning of our tour we were told Shanghai was the future of China, Beijing is the China of today and Xian, is China’s past.  We start our day by going to the ancient city wall. The city wall is massive – tall, long and thick. The South Gate and North Gate are the two main entrances to the inner city. The city itself is neatly arranged along the city wall.  I think I remember our guide telling us it was a total of 14 miles long ( but don’t quote me). Even here at this time of morning ( 9 a.m.) people have their music with them and are dancing and doing Tai Chi.

Battlements on the old city wall - Xian

Battlements on the old city wall – Xian

In addition there are speakers along the towers on the wall playing a haunting melody and I find it very calming.

After doing some research I found some interesting facts about the wall.

The first city wall of Xi’an was built of earth, rammed layer upon layer. The base layer was made of earth, quick lime, and glutinous rice extract, tamped together. It made the wall extremely strong and firm. Later, the wall was totally enclosed with bricks. A moat, wide and deep, ran around the city. Over the moat, there used to be a huge drawbridge, which would cut off the way in and out of the city, once lifted.

The wall stands 12 meters high. It is 12-14 meters across the top, 15-18 meters thick at bottom, and 13.7 kilometers in length. There is a rampart every 120 meters.

Watch Tower - The soldiers could peer over the wall and shoot arrows at invaders.

Watch Tower – The soldiers could peer over the wall and shoot arrows at invaders.

The ramparts are towers that extend out from the main wall. The ramparts were built to allow soldiers to see enemies trying to climb the wall. The distance between the ramparts is within the range of arrows fired from either side. This allowed soldiers to protect the entire wall without exposing themselves to the enemy. There are altogether 98 ramparts; each has a sentry building on top of it.

The gates of the city wall were the only way to go into and out of town. Therefore, these gates were important strategic points. A watch tower is located on each of the four corners of the wall. The one at the southwestern corner is round, probably after the model of the imperial city wall of the Tang Dynasty, but the other three are square-shaped. 

Along the outer crest of the city wall there are crenellations or battlements. Under each of the 5,984 crenels there is a square hole, from which arrows were shot and watch was kept. The lower, inner walls are called parapets. They were used to prevent soldiers from falling off the wall.

A photo taken of our "sweet" Marie, outside the terra cotta factory. Quiet and soft spoken, Marie is also adventurous and has lots of interesting stories to tell.

A photo taken of our “sweet” Marie, outside the terra cotta factory. Quiet and soft spoken, Marie is also adventurous and has lots of interesting stories to tell.

After visiting the wall we are off to the Terra Cotta Warrior Museums.   As we drive to the museum our guide points out Mount Li which is the sight of the Emperor’s tomb.  The Tomb Mound is located at the foot of Mount Li and would be similar to an earthen pyramid. Experimental pits dug around the tomb have revealed dancers, musicians, and acrobats full of life and caught in mid-performance and are thought to be placed there to entertain the emperor in his after life. Further excavations of the tomb itself are on hold, at least for now.  “The tomb was filled with models of palaces, pavilions and offices as well as fine vessels, precious stones and rarities,” reads a translation of the text from Siam Qian. The account indicates the tomb contains replicas of the area’s rivers and streams made with mercury flowing to the sea through hills and mountains of bronze. Precious stones such as pearls are said to represent the sun, moon, and other stars. Modern tests on the tomb mound have revealed unusually high concentrations of mercury, lending credence to at least some of the historical account. 

As we walk towards the museum we see many many people dressed as the girl in navy center.  I asked Michael about them and found out these are locals posing as museum guides.  Their language skills and knowledge of the museum is not up to "official" guide standards but given how many we saw touring people around, they make a living from it.

As we walk towards the museum we see many many people dressed as the girl in navy center. I asked Michael about them and found out these are locals posing as museum guides. Their language skills and knowledge of the museum is not up to “official” guide standards but given how many we saw touring people around, they make a living from it.

Chinese archaeologists are also using remote-sensing technology to probe the tomb mound. The technique recently revealed an underground chamber with four stair like walls.

Ying Zheng took the throne in 246 B.C. at the age of 13.  He took the name of Qin Shi Huang Di—the First Emperor of Qin. According to writings of court historian Siam Qian , Qin ordered the mausoleum’s construction shortly after taking the throne. More than 700,000 laborers worked on the project, which was halted in 209 B.C. amid uprisings a year after Qin’s death.  Qin Shi Huang, was terrified of death and was constantly searching for the so-called ‘elixir of life’. After allegedly sending 8,000 people on expeditions to find his cure unsuccessfully (they never returned, knowing they’d be killed without the elixir) Qin relied on mercury tablets in increasing doses, until they killed him aged 50. How ironic. The Emperor was extremely proud of his cavernous tomb. So proud, in fact, that he promptly murdered its creators to ensure it would not be found and plundered in the future.

Prior to going to the museum we visited a small factory where they make replicas of the terra cotta warriors and if we planned to buy souvenirs, our guides suggest buying them here.  In the building they have demonstrations showing how they believe the warriors were made and have a highly developed type kiln ( given when the warriors were made) believe used by the ancient artisans. We see people making the replicas that are for sale. If you have the money, they will make a terra cotta bust of you.  We saw two that were made for a Canadian couple and were ready for shipping. 

Supporting a replica warrior during the drying phase - prior to being fired.  The original warriors had solids legs, but hollow torso and arms to reduce weight and prevent collapse prior to being fired.

Supporting a replica warrior during the drying phase – prior to being fired. The original warriors had solids legs, but hollow torso and arms to reduce weight and prevent collapse prior to being fired.

In addition to the terra cotta structures, this plant also made lacquer ware, which was a bit of a put off.  Before you could leave the building you had to wend your way through two other rooms offering the usual souvenirs.

We leave the plant and arrive at the Terra Cotta Warriors Museum and have a long walk from our bus to the entrance.  Our guide warns us we will be running a gauntlet of hawkers and tells us to just keep walking and don’t make eye contact.  Before entering the museum we are given a bit of a history lesson.  This sight was found in 1974 by farmers digging a well for water.  They came across some artifacts and notified authorities. Eventually archaeologists were dispatched to the area.

Warriors and horses in pit 1

Warriors and horses in pit 1

They found not one, but thousands of clay soldiers, each with unique facial expressions and positioned according to rank. Though largely gray today, patches of paint hint at once brightly colored clothes. Further excavations have revealed swords, arrow tips, and other weapons, many in pristine condition.

Faces of the warriors - no two are alike.  The heads are made separately and the neck fits inside the torso and are held in place by gravity.

Faces of the warriors – no two are alike. The heads are made separately and the neck fits inside the torso and are held in place by gravity.

The soldiers are in trench like, underground corridors.Vault 1 In some of the corridors, clay horses are aligned four abreast; behind them are wooden chariots. To date, four pits have been partially excavated. Three are filled with the terra-cotta soldiers, horse-drawn chariots, and weapons. The fourth pit is empty, a testament to the original unfinished construction.

They’ve only uncovered a small fraction of the total ‘army’ of figures: experts currently place the entire number of soldiers at 8,000 – with 130 chariots, 530 horses and 150 cavalry horses helping to ward of any dangers in the afterlife. So far only just over 1,000 soldiers are on display.   Though each terracotta warrior is unique, experts believe a set number of facial moulds were actually used, before workmen added clay to make each one distinct. Each limb and the head was created separately before being fixed to the torso. Once assembled, intricate features such as facial expressions were added. It is believed that their legs were made in much the same way that terracotta drainage pipes were manufactured at the time. This would make it an assembly line production, with specific parts manufactured and assembled after being fired, as opposed to crafting one solid piece and subsequently firing it. . Upon completion, the terracotta figures were placed in the pits in precise military formation according to rank and duty.

This is what they look like as they uncover these lost treasures.  How do you put humpty together again?

This is what they look like as they uncover these lost treasures. How do you put humpty together again?

The terracotta figures are life-sized. They vary in height, uniform and hairstyle in accordance with rank. Most originally held real weapons such as spears, swords, or crossbows.

After our history lesson we enter Pit 1 or Vault 1. This area contains about 6000 warriors but only 1000 have been painstakingly pieced together.  They stand in their original pits and are observed from walkways erected around the dig sight.  At the back of the pit, one can see soldiers in various states of reconstruction.  None of the pieces were found intact and this is like a gigantic jig saw puzzle and it can take days for them to find the right piece to fit in place.

Vault 2 allows you to see the emergence of the warrior pieces. This area has remained largely untouched since 1999.  The relics found were often painted with lacquer and upon exposure to air, quickly breaks down and disappear. 

Looks like they use saran wrap to help hold the pieces together.

Looks like they use saran wrap to help hold the pieces together.

A way to preserve the colored lacquer has been found so eventually they may continue to unearth these treasures. Vault 3 has 68 soldiers and officers in various states of reconstruction and stand in what appears to be a military headquarters. Here one can see a charioteer standing at the ready, but alas his wooden chariot has been lost. 

Near vault 3 is the Qinyong Museum which houses two miniature bronze chariots which were unearthed in the western section near the Emperors tomb.

Prior to leaving the area we stop in the “gift” store.  In the store is the farmer who discovered the artifacts in 1974.  If you buy the book, he will autograph it. In the past if you bought the book, he would autograph it and you could take your picture with him. 

The farmer who found the sight in 1974.

The farmer who found the sight in 1974.

Today you are not allowed photos, but I did manage to get a photo of him.  No longer a poor peasant, he is a well to do celebrity!

We have our lunch on sight.  We are treated to “noodle” bowls and watch as they pull and twist the dough until all of a sudden they have a mass of noodles.  The lunch was one of the better ones we have had. We are off to our hotel for a rest before going out for a special dinner and evening show.

Apparently somewhere along the line we missed a lunch so Michael has changed our menu tonight from a four dumpling dinner to an 18 dumpling dinner.  We are taken to a restaurant similar to a dinner theatre.  The tables are on ever higher platforms/tiers so everyone will have a great view of the show. After we are seated the dumplings start to arrive. 

Here's our "Pig" dumpling. Almost too cute to eat.

Here’s our “Pig” dumpling. Almost too cute to eat.

Each course is announced so you will know what you are eating.  Each table receives enough dumplings of each kind so everyone at the table gets one dumpling.  I can’t remember all the kinds, but I know we had pork & cabbage, beef, duck, shrimp, egg and on and on.  The absolute best was the dessert dumpling – walnut.  The chefs prepared the dumplings so they resembled the contents, so we had pig shaped dumplings, duck shaped dumpling etc.  I think the duck was my favorite shape.

After our wonderful dinner we turned our chairs to enjoy the Tang Dynasty Show.  It is a traditional show and the individual artists train for a long time in order to be considered good enough to perform.  The costumes, make up and lighting were wonderful. 

Tang Dynasty show

Tang Dynasty show

We all enjoyed the show and I wish I could show the videos I took, but we’ll have to settle for still photos.  Off to the hotel for yet another early morning.  We will say good bye to Xian and fly to our last city – Beijing.  The end of our tour is nearing.

The Tang Dynasty Royals

The Tang Dynasty Royals