Another day, another one of the Seven Wonders of the World. It’s Terracotta Warrior day.
I wake up knackered. At seven am I hear what appears to be the digital equivalent of the town clock. Electronic chimes boom out over the city with a female voice announcing what I can only assume is the time.
Breakfast once again is extremely edible. We must have done something wrong on our last tour, we spent two weeks eating pizza and pot noodles. This trip has been a vast improvement in the eating department.
Then out into the big bad world in the hands of Timo and our driver, Mr Hu.
Xi’an became a cultural and political centre of China in the 11th century BC during the Tsng dynasty at which point it already had a population of a million people, making it the biggest city in the world at the time. This was when europe was going through the Bronze Age and the population of the Great Britain was around one hundred thousand .
Fast forward to today and the population of Xian is over seven million, twice that of Wales. Again the sky is punctuated by vast concrete towers, like fingers scratching away at the fog above.
Like most cities all over the world Xian has grown up around a river. But in Xian’s case it has eight rivers.
The Terracotta army lie forty clicks away down a five lane motorway.
Before we get to the actual warriors we stop off at the coolest gift shop in the world. It’s the factory where they make genuine fake terracotta warriors, using the original technique they used two millennium ago. Except they use moulds. So not the same at all then. But the clay does come from the same place the clay for the originals originated.
Because they use moulds they can knock out twenty thousand identical little warriors a day, and twenty big ones a week. Or something like that. But for an unspecified price (if you need to ask sir, you can’t afford it) they will take a series of photographs of your head and create a life size genuine terracotta warrior with your mush on it.
After looking around the Warrior ‘factory’, we are shown around the furniture ‘factory’. Yes, they do a very nice line in painted furniture as well. And then, wait for it, the gift shop.
They have warriors in all shapes and sizes. Well, not all shapes, just warrior shapes, but all sizes. From a few inches tall to full size replicas of the real thing, all made exactly the same way as the originals. But different. Some of us are mug enough to buy gift sets. One of us is mug enough to by a big garden gnome size one that will be sent first class on a slow boat from China.
As we head for the big attraction I tut tut as we spot two guys doing some leveling in the middle of a dual carriageway with no high vis and no traffic management. Have these people not heard of Chapter Eight of the Temporary Signs Manual?
We pass the mountain where the clay was dug and the mountain with the mercury filled tomb.
It is not actually a mountain, it is the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor, Qin Shi Huang. This mausoleum was constructed over 38 years, from 246 to 208 BC, and is situated underneath a 76-meter-tall tomb mound shaped like a truncated pyramid. Legend has it that inside the tomb there are lakes of mercury. This is one of the many reasons they have not yet excavated the site. If the legend is true it could be quite dangerous and technology has not advanced enough yet for archaeologists to be sure they can preserve whatever they find.
The emperor believed that drinking mercury would bring him immortality. He died of mercury poisoning.
Around the tomb there are many sites of archaeological interest, most notably the Terracotta warriors. They were commissioned by thd emperor to protect his tomb. The scale of the project is mind boggling.
The first fragments of warriors and bronze arrowheads were discovered by Yang Zhifa, his five brothers, and Wang Puzhi, farmers who were digging a well in March 1974.
Timing is all important. If they had discovered them a few decades earlier, we would not have had the technology to preserve them. We might not even had cared. If they had been digging their well a few decades later, they probably would have been using machinery rather than digging by hand, so they could well have gone undiscovered.
Eventually archaeologists were alerted to the find and they started serious and scientific investigation of the site. While digging to build a museum, the accidently found two more sites containing more warriors.
The rest is history – and it is now regarded as a world heritage site. Lots of people visit every day. Lots of them.
As we enter the site we jump on a little golf cart thing to rush us up to the main museum. Timo advises us we will have to walk back down.
It will come as no surprise to read that as we walked in through the door there was a huge scrum with thousands of people trying to take photographs. With a little patience it is easy to get to the front. Once there the awesomeness of the site is laid out in front of you. Six thousand terracotta warriors have been here since before Jesus was a twinkle in Mary’s eye.
Directly in front of us are the warriors that have been painstakingly reconstructed like giant ancient 3D jigsaw puzzles. Behind them lay uncovered but still broken, thousands more. And finally, at the back, lie many more, as yet uncovered.
The final group are left untouched because once uncovered and exposed to 21st century air the ancient colour will disappear within three days.
There are three museums in total and as we wander through, the novelty and awe does not wear off. There is still an element of reconstruction and modernity, but cynicism is left at the door for this wonder.
We then find out why we only get a lift up the hill and have to walk back to the car park. Because if we had a lift we would miss the gift shops. I see a pattern emerging here.
Lunch. Where to begin? No authentic local greasy spoon with dishes being washed in the toilet today. We go to the equivalent of The Celtic Manor, or Vale Resort. We go in past the huge lobby, past the remote control piano and into the sumptuous restaurant. Not a single word of complaint or caution is uttered and every single dish is demolished with gusto. And washed down with free beer.
Lunch was worked off by a leisurely seven click bike ride around the fourteen hundred year old city walls. As you do. Timo gave us a briefing on the history of the wall but it was difficult to pay attention due to the training session for riot police going on behind. Military looking dudes were giving fresh faced new recruit looking dudes lessons is using a huge taser/cattle prod thing which looked a little on the unpleasant side.
Timo seemed to take this bizarre situation for granted. I’m not sure what that tells us about how this country works.
The bike ride was rather invigorating. I’ve not ridden a bike since I was in school, but you don’t forget, it’s like riding a bike.
We rode past the West Gate, which apparently was the end of the Silk Road. Or perhaps of the beginning, depending which way you want to look at it.
Jumping off at the South Gate we found ourselves in a rather sketchy area. By that I mean a street with shop after shop of pencils, paint brushes and assorted art paraphernalia.
Hidden at the end of the road we found, wait for it – CIDER. Only pear cider, but it’s the next best thing. With only seven bottles in the fridge we quickly drank them dry.
We set out looking for a mythical bar street that Timo had tipped us of about. We fail to find it.
In the absence of a bar, a famous international pizza chain was visited. Nothing remarkable worth blogging happened.
On returning to the hotel a robot is spotted delivering room service. It picks up snacks from vending machine, jumps into lift, goes to hotel room and rings room phone. China. The gift that keeps on giving.