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The Terracotta Army

The Terracotta Army is one of the top attractions in China, because of its historical significance and uniqueness. It is significant because the hundreds of detailed lifesize models represent the army that triumphed over all other Chinese armies and who were the decisive factor in forming a united China.

The Terracotta Army Museum lies 2 km east of The Tomb of Qin Shihuang, known as the First Emperor, who unified China 2,200 years ago. Emperor Qin, from whom China gets its name, ordered the creation of this model army.

Why Were the Terracotta Warriors Made?

The Terracotta WarriorsThe Terracotta Warriors

The army of terracotta statues was made to be buried with First Emperor Qin Shihuang:

  • as a show of his glory,
  • to remember the army that triumphed over the other Warring States to unite China, and
  • because it was believed that objects like statues can be animated in the afterlife, and because Qin Shihuang required an after-death army. Also read the culture of death in China.

Athough the Terracotta Army have not been animated, they serve their first two purposes very well, standing on show, defying time, a majestic reminder of Emperor Qin’s military success, and the wars of long ago.

Terracotta Army Facts

  • Attraction name:The Qin Tomb Terracotta Warriors and Horses
  • Chinese: 秦陵兵马俑 Qínlíng Bīngmǎyǒng /chin-ling bing-maa-yong/

The Terracotta Army and the tomb of Emperor Qin Shihuang took 38 years and 720 thousand builders to complete. The Terracotta Army was buried for 2,200 years. So far 1,868 terracotta warriors and chariots have been unearthed. More Terracotta Army Facts>>


The Terracotta WarriorsThe Terracotta Warriors

The Terracotta Army figures’ excavation is regarded as one of the greatest discoveries of the 20th century. It had lain underground for more than 2000 years before farmers digging a well in 1974 uncovered what is now considered one of the greatest archaeological sites in the world.

The first part of the Terracotta Army site to be discovered was named Vault One. In 1976, two other vaults were uncovered 20-25 meters away, and were named Vault Two and Vault Three.

The tomb is a treasury for the Chinese people and for the whole world. In December 1987, UNESCO selected the Tomb of the First Emperor (including the Terracotta Army Vaults) as a World Cultural Heritage Site.

Incredible Detail

Thousands of life-size, vivid terracotta warriors in battle formation were revealed in the course of excavation of the earth and timber vaults - a whole army which would accompany its emperor into immortality. The sight transports you back to the ancient warring states period.

The horsemen, the longbow bearers, the archers, and the senior officers and generals were positioned in a grand ancient army formation, in strict accordance with the ancient directives on the Art of War.

Every figure differs in facial features and expression, clothing, hairstyle, and gestures, providing abundant and detailed artifacts for the study of the military, cultural, and economic history of that period.

Many of the figures originally held real weapons of the time, such as bronze swords, longbows, arrows, spears, dagger-axes, and other long-shafted weapons. The weapons were treated to make them resistant to rust and corrosion, so that even after being buried for over 2,000 years they were still sharp.

Vaults Inside the Museum and the Exhibition of Bronze Chariots

The museum (see plan view) mainly consists of three vaults and an exhibition hall: Vault One, Vault Two, Vault Three , and The Exhibition Hall of the Bronze Chariots.

Vault One

The Terracotta Army, Vault OneThe Terracotta Army, Vault One

This vault opened to visitors in 1979. It measures about 210 meters long and 62 meters wide and the bottom of the pit varies from 4.5 meters to 6.5 meters below ground level. Ten earthen walls were built at intervals of 2.5 meters, forming 9 circling corridors.

About 6000 terracotta figures of soldiers and horses face east in a rectangular array, each one either armed long spear, dragger or halberd. The vanguard appears to be three rows of infantry who stand at the easternmost end of the army. Close behind is the main force of armored soldiers holding weapons, accompanied by 38 horse-driven chariots.

On the southern, northern, and western side there stand one row of figures serving as the army's defense wing. Standing in front of such a grand ancient army array, one would feel the ground shake to the footsteps of the advancing soldiers.

Vault Two

Excavated in 1976, Vault Two stands about 20 meters north to Vault One. As the highlight of the whole mausoleum, it uncovers the mystery of the ancient army array. It consists of four units, measuring 94 meters east to west and 84 meters south to north and 5 meters deep., forming a 6000 sq. meter built-up area.

The first unit contains rows of kneeling and standing archers; the second one is a chariot war array; the third unit consists of mixed forces with infantry, chariot and trooper standing in rectangular array; and the last one includes numerous troopers holding weapons. The four units form a rigorous battle array.

Unit 1:This section is at the eastern end of the pit. 60 crossbow bearers surround the main force in standing position. The main force in the middle is comprised of 160 kneeling or squatting crossbow bearers.

Unit 2:64 chariots were arranged in square formation, eight rows of eight. There are four clay horses in the front driving each chariot and in each chariot are three soldiers.

The Terracotta Army, Vault Three

Unit 3: In the middle, this section contains 19 chariots, 264 infantry, and 8 cavalrymen in a rectangular array of 3 rows. In front of each horse stands one cavalry soldier, one hand pulling the bridle rein while the other draws a bow. 36 infantry soldiers were once arrayed behind each chariot in addition to 3 drivers.

Unit 4:To the left, 108 cavalry soldiers and 180 terracotta horses were arranged in rectangular array in 11 rows.

Vault Three

Vault Three, the smallest one, was uncovered in 1976 and opened to visitors in 1987. It measures 17.6 meters east to west and 21.4 meters south to north and the bottom of the pit varies from 5.2 meters to 5.4 meters below the ground level. It's obvious that Vault Three was built to be the command post for the soldiers in other pits. The three vaults stand like an equilateral triangle.

The Exhibition of Bronze Chariots

A Bronze Carriage in the Museum of the Terracotta Warriors.

The Exhibition Hall of the Qinling Bronze Carriages opened on October 1, 1983. The two bronze carriages displayed in the hall were discovered 20 meters from the west side of the Tomb of Qin Shihuang in December 1980, and were elaborately restored before exhibition.

The carriages have about 3,400 parts each and were driven by four horses. The second one is 3.17meters long and 1.06 meters high. The bronze horses vary from 65 cm to 67 cm high and 120 cm long. Each weighs 1,234 kg in total.

They were mainly made of bronze, but there were 1,720 pieces of golden and silver ornaments, weighting 7 kg, on each carriage. The carriages were so well-made, and so vivid, that they boast being the best-preserved and having the highest rank among the earliest known bronze relics in China. These chariots are the biggest pieces of ancient bronzeware ever found in the world.

Travel Essentials

Xian Terracotta Warriors Tour
  • Location: 30 kilometers east of Xi'an in Lintong District.
  • Opening hours: 8:30am-5:30pm
  • Ticket price:90 yuan (March 1–November 30); 65 yuan (December 1–February 28)
  • Transport from Xi'an: Bus 915, 914 or 306, or about 120 yuan by taxi.
  • There is a security check at the gate and armed guards in position. Children under 1.2 may enter free of charge.
  • Ideal route: the Exhibition Hall of the Qin Bronze Chariots, the three vaults of terracotta figures, and then the Round Curtain Movie. The bronze horses are worth visiting and should not be bypassed just to save money or time.

Further Reading