Poor organization cannot detract from the spectacle of the 8th Wonder of the World
23.07.2011 - 23.07.2011 33 °C
As planned we depart our hotel relatively early to make the hour long journey to the main purpose of our visit to Xi’an. Located outside the city a simple and efficient bus ride, from the train station, has us stop briefly at the Huaqing Hot Springs before we arrive at what appears to be a service area. Confused that a one hour bus ride needs a toilet stop it is only after the bus conductor advises in very broken English that we have ‘arrived’ that we disembark.
Greeted by a sea of sidewalk restaurants and tourist vendors there are no discernible signs, in any language, pointing the many thousands of tourists that arrive at this major tourist sight, towards what is often billed as the 8th Wonder of the World. Sign language and mime are required to discern that we must walk through a car park and up a hill to reach the entrance to this huge archeological site. Remind me again how this nation organized a successful Olympic Games!
With an entrance charge of almost $20USD each I am unsure whether to hand over our Yuan or put my hands up and accept the perpetrated mugging. With entry costing twice that of the Forbidden City this has to be an incredible museum. Knowing that we have a 15 minute walk to the warriors from the Ticket Booth we saunter through an attractive park as the noon day heat soars to 32c. As we set off a mass of Chinese nationals fight and push to board the electric golf carts that can circumvent this brief walk. With hundreds queuing, to avoid exercise, we can be sure of reaching the museum proper well ahead of those joining the back of the scrum.
Close to the museum entry we show our golden tickets and pass through security. Fifty yards later another security check iterates the entire operation for no apparent reason. Entering the museum courtyard we are faced by a variety of monolithic buildings. With no discernible signs or maps in English we are left to wandering aimlessly in search of a promised movie theatre that should help set the historical context of the museum. Stumbling into the one time entry only museum of Chinese Archeology we are told, in sporadic English, of the history of the Chinese empire with apparently random references to the Terracotta Warriors. Unsure whether the entire history of China, along with a history of the museum we are now in, with little focus on the Terracotta Army is tacit we continue our search for the fabled movie theatre.
Close to the Exit we find a map of the museum grounds. Why the only map of the grounds should be positioned next to the exit one can only imagine. With the entrance fees being charged one might have hoped for a usefully positioned map to help the 1,000s of non-Chinese tourists that visit the museum every day. Clearly, too much to ask we note the location of the movie theatre and make our way to what has to be the worst museum information movie ever I have ever seen. The movie was clearly made in the 1970s when the museum originally opened. In places faded and blurred through continual playback the majority of the movie displays incomprehensible scenes of flowing rivers and terribly acted battle scenes, reminiscent of the very worst 70s style Chinese war movie imaginable – think soldiers throwing themselves into the camera lens to die like some ham actor or opera singer. Some 3-4 minutes of the 20 minutes film is given over to the feats of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China. Clearly, not impressed we head for Pit 3, the smallest and most recently excavated of the three pits of this UNESCO World Heritage Site that are available for public viewing.
From earlier reading and a fondly remembered trip, as a child, to the Royal Agricultural Halls in London, to see a very small example of these warriors we know that the Terracotta Army dates from the 3rd century BC. Discovered in 1974, by local farmers digging a well, each figure is unique, varying in both facial expression and height; with the tallest being the generals. The Army includes everything that the Emperor might need to both enjoy and conquer the afterlife. Warriors, chariots, horses, officials, acrobats, musicians and herders. The attention to detail is as amazing as the quantity of figures identified. Current estimates have the three pits containing over 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses. As we will see the majority have yet to be discovered but even with ‘only’ some 20% uncovered and restored the sight is impressive.
Pit 3, is the smallest unearthed pit, holding the Generals headquarters with high ranking generals and their attendants clearly visible, alongside still to be reconstructed statues. Next door in Pit 2 a military guard of, as yet largely uncovered cavalry and infantry units, provides an insight into the amount of restoration work required to return these warriors to their original, although now unpainted, condition.
According to historian Sima Qian (145-90 BC), construction of this mausoleum began in 246BC, involving some 700,000 works and taking almost four decades – Qin Shi was 13 years old when construction began. With the mausoleum of Emperor Qin still unopened, for fear of damaging what remains inside, archeologists can only guess at the treasures and ‘wonderful objects’ that were reputed to have been buried alongside the Emperor and is army of the afterlife.
Entering the largest and busiest of the three pits the scale of Pit 1 is instantly visible, allowing us to forget the terrible accompanying movie and lack of basic museum organization. 700ft long it contains the Main army, estimated at 8,000 figures with some 800 figures on view, currently. Ones first view of the statuesque army is mesmerizing. An army of individuals stood still, attending their Emperor. Whilst Emperor Qin had to be completely mad the scale of his achievement has to justify the often overused epilate ‘8th Wonder of the World’ for surely this is. Along with the Great Wall of China, coincidentally also commissioned by Emperor Qin, this is a sight that genuinely warrants its publicity.
Often fighting the continuous scrum of Chinese trying to obtain their own photo opportunity we peruse the entire Hall, maybe not in serene comfort, but certainly in awe. To the rear a closed for the weekend restoration area at least provides some hope that the exorbitant charge for entering the museum might be used for good use. Certainly, the authorities are not using it to provide helpful signage for non-Chinese speaking visitors.
Weary from the volume of visitors we are contending with we are soon back on the efficient, cheap and extremely frequent bus service back to Xi’an. Returning to our hotel and after a brief sojourn we return to the walled city to explore the various markets and bars around the southern gate. Finding ourselves back in the Muslim Quarter we happily wonder the souk styled stalls before returning to our hotel by moto. With our first moto showing signs of wear and unable to make the ten minute journey to our accommodation we switch bikes mid alleyway and finally return to our hotel. Weary from the days travelling we finish packing and fall sound asleep ready to depart tomorrow for Bangkok and more gracious territory.