Terracotta Wonders in China

As we were reading the UNESCO notice outside the Museum of Terracotta Army, my Chinese colleague turned to me and asked “Why Terracotta, why the word terracotta? What’s the meaning?”

The Terracotta Army, is known as 兵马俑 (Bing Ma Yong) in Mandarin. It literally means the statues of soldiers and horses. Terracotta, on the other hand, comes from Italian, terra-cotta, which means baked earth. Terracotta is the kind of clay that was used to create this army of what thought to be 8000 soldiers, 520 horses, 100s of chariots and cavalry horses to be buried with the First Emperor of Qin Dynasty (246 – 221 BC), as if to protect the tomb of Emperor Qin. Thus called the Terracotta Army. However, First emperor Qin had more than an army in his tomb – he had his own necropolis consisting of palaces, offices, halls where his terracotta officials, musicians, acrobats lived.

A museum was built on the excavation site where 3 main pits of terracotta army were opened for viewing since 1970s. This is located east of Xi’an in Shaanxi province – about an hour drive from main city of Xi’an. As this necropolis is huge – excavation is ongoing. A free bus ride away from the main museum takes you to the Emperor Qin’s Mausoleum Site Park where there are more pits of terracotta statues. You will see some archeologists still at work in some of the pits on weekdays.

Tinges of pink/orange/blue left on the clay figurines – locals affectionately call them 泥娃娃 (Ni Wa Wa) – Clay Dolls

They are truly Life-sized wonders, though the colors have disintegrated due to exposure to air – one can see and feel the magnificience

Close up of a Terracotta Warrior.

Crushed clay statue in Pit 2 of museum.


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