WHS: Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor, Xi’an, China

After our diversion through the Koreas, let’s return to China and visit a World Heritage Site that’s been in the news lately because of some jerk who broke a thumb off their traveling exhibit —

— y’know, stealing the whole thing intact, that we could have a certain respect for, in the sense it would make a good heist movie plot, but breaking off a thumb? Dude, that’s just sad

— and the Chinese are pretty huffy about, which far as we’re concerned they should be in any event, and especially when the artifact in question is from the

Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor
aka “Terracotta Army” or “Terracotta Warriors”:

Terracotta Army


Located at the northern foot of Lishan Mountain, 35 kilometers northeast of Xi’an, Shaanxi Province, Qinshihuang Mausoleum is the tomb of Emperor Qinshihuang, founder of the first unified empire in Chinese history during the 3rd century BCE. Begun in 246 BCE the grave mound survives to a height of 51.3 meters within a rectangular, double-walled enclosure oriented north-south. Nearly 200 accompanying pits containing thousands of life-size terra cotta soldiers, terra cotta horses and bronze chariots and weapons – a world-renowned discovery – together with burial tombs and architectural remains total over 600 sites within the property area of  56.25 square kilometers. According to the historian Sima Qian (c. 145-95 BCE), workers from every province of the Empire toiled unceasingly until the death of the Emperor in 210 in order to construct a subterranean city within a gigantic mound.

As the tomb of the first emperor who unified the country, it is the largest in Chinese history, with a unique standard and layout, and a large number of exquisite funeral objects. It testifies to the founding of the first unified empire- the Qin Dynasty, which during the 3rd BCE, wielded unprecedented political, military and economic power and advanced the social, cultural and artistic level of the empire…

There’s nothing quite like this anywhere. There was thought to be about 8,000 of these soldiers, but they keep finding thousands more and revising the size of the site upwards…

Terracotta Army

… and each is unique in features — it’s thought there were about ten basic molds from which each was customized — and originally they were all painted and held real weapons.

Terracotta Army

The thing that’s hardest to believe is that this necropolis was completely forgotten for nearly two millenia, and was only found in 1974, when some farmers started digging a well and came up with statue pieces:

Terracotta Army

Yep, right there. And if you’re lucky timing your visit, you can actually meet one of those farmers who’s still alive and apparently thoroughly enjoying his new career of autographing your purchases at the gift shop:

Terracotta Army Finder


That, that’s totally unique in our experience, and we’re fairly sure that there is not a single other inscribed World Heritage Site that you can drop by and shake hands with the person who discovered it!

Terracotta Army

There’s a selection of the better preserved ones on display to get a close look at, like that pikeman or this officer,

Terracotta Army

and not only are there soldiers, but horses as well, some drawing full size bronze chariots:

Terracotta Army

To our mild surprise, the actual Emperor’s Tomb is still unexcavated under a large earth pyramid; warnings of mercury rivers and physical traps and mystical protections have led authorities to hold off until techniques are developed to explore without destroying the contents.


p dir=”ltr”>In any case, this is such a unique place it should definitely be on your bucket list for a visit to China — not many places more culturally significant than the necropolis of the Emperor who first unified China … and nowhere at all with a lifesize army of thousands guarding it!

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  1. […] city of Xi’an is just packed with World Heritage Sites to visit besides the Terracotta Warriors, including four properties in the most epic transnational World Heritage Site of them all, a […]

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