The Eternal Guardians of Qin!

Excavations of grand tombs and mausoleums around the globe are witness to the ancient world’s preoccupation with death and the afterlife. But the grandest excavation by far, has to be that of the terracotta army of Emperor Qin in Xian.

The Terracotta Warriors of Xian

The on site museum is concealed under an unsightly hangar like building. The sheer scale of the complex is astounding.  Pit 1 alone has an entire –  life sized – army of over 1000 infantrymen (excluding the nearly 5000 still to be excavated!) arrayed in humongous columns as if ready for battle.

Pit 2 has another 1300 archers and cavalrymen and some 64 chariots. Pit 3, the smallest is thought to be the command center and had only 64 figures and one ornate chariot drawn by four horses.

Differing costumes and hairstyles, even belt buckles, signifying different echelons in the army. The mind boggles at the cost of this endeavor in terms of time and manpower.

Qin’s underground mausoleum, consisting of several palaces and rumoured to be filled with incredible treasures and quicksilver streams, is yet to be excavated. The warriors were accidentally discovered by farmers digging a well in 1974 and subsequently excavated from several pits around the actual burial mound.

I (sheepishly) confess to standing in line for a (rather expensive) picture book, autographed by one of the farmers who allegedly found the first pottery fragments. R was skeptical as always, but regardless of whether the story is true or not…….I love that book. I really do!

Terracotta Warriors - Xian

Apart from conquering and unifying China’s five states in 221 BC – when he called himself Qin Shi Huang Di (or “First Emperor of the Qin Dynasty”) – Emperor Qin is credited with building the first part of the Great Wall and with standardizing script, weights and measures across the kingdom.

But he was also ruthless and autocratic and was reputedly obsessed with immortality. Qin eventually succumbed to the after effects of the concoctions he consumed in his quest for eternal life. His weak successors barely survived him by a few years, ending forever his dream of dynasty.

The first emperor’s name would have likely been wiped out of collective memory but for his pottery sentinels, silently standing guard through eternity.

PS: While in Xian, do make time for the exquisite army of Han Yangling. You will not be disappointed.

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Madhu is an Interior designer turned travel blogger on a long sabbatical to explore the world. When not crafting stories on The Urge To Wander, she's probably Tweeting @theurgetowander or sharing special moments on

20 thoughts on “The Eternal Guardians of Qin!

  1. Xi’an has always been one of the places in China that I really want to visit. The terracotta warriors are just amazing!

  2. This is a most interesting blog post. I am not sure what to make of the warriors, such a large number of men and they look so realistic. It makes one wonder how where they assembled, was it over a number of years, different battles? Interesting!

    1. They apparently took over 40years to build the mausoleum and the warriors never went to battle! Their sole purpose was to guard the grave. Theories abound that human sacrifice had just been discontinued and not wanting to weaken the kingdom by interring the real army, Qin commissioned these! Another one says his fear of the enemies he had created and who he expected to follow him into the afterlife as was the belief those days, was the reason for this army that represented his real imperial one and also the reason they face a pass in the East!! No one knows for sure! Thank you for reading 🙂

      1. Very fascinating, I am going to follow up on this bit of history. I cannot imagine an endeavor such as this one, for any good reason but you’ve piqued my interest. Thanks for sharing, I learned something new here!

  3. Beautiful pictures Madhu!

    Seeing the Terracotta Warriors would justify any trip to Xi’an, I can’t imagine how they must have looked in their original colours! It’s said that an entire replica of the known world awaits in Emperor Qin’s tomb – the only reason stopping archaeologists from excavating it are the risks of mercury poisoning.

    1. Thank you James! Another reason for the tomb being left alone is the fear of harming the relics as in the botched excavations of the Ming Tombs in Beijing! There are so many un-excavated tombs in the area…imagine the surge in tourism if they ever find the treasures!

  4. This is one of the two reasons (the other is the Great Wall) why I should go and visit China again. I haven’t been in either. The last time I was there (in Shanghai), I had to content myself with buying small replicas of a general and two foot soldiers, haha. Definitely not the same as being in that awesome place as you featured it. 🙂

    1. Hope you return soon! Do check out my older posts on China (click on the images on the right to take you to a couple of my favourites) Really loved some of those out of the beaten track places! Thanks for dropping by!

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