The burial mound is an enormous man-made mountain that took years to create. It might have had something to do with the emperor’s egomania or the terror he invoked in his subjects.
The second day in Xian was even more exciting than the first. We were going to see the tomb of the first emperor and his terracotta army. Waking up early, we took an hour-long bus ride to the entrance of his ancient resting place.
The first emperor Qin Shi Huang was the first national ruler of China. From his capital in Xian he nationalized the language, the currency and brought the many warring states of China under his control.
The statues of his army were discovered in 1974 and are about 2,300 years old. There are more than 8,000 unique soldiers, chariots, and horses. The protection of the first emperor was as important in death as it was in life. Many of the figures have yet to be unearthed in the three giant, indoor excavations pits. The first pit is the biggest and most spectacular but due to the advice of a friend we would save the best for last. It was to the third and last pit that we began our tour.
The third dig site is the smallest of the three and holds the fewest statues. This was created on purpose to represent the place where the general and his staff directed troops. Because we were there so early the crowds of tourists still had not made it this far into the compound. We were able to explore without a mob and take our time. The general sat on a pedestal looking out towards an army that will never show up. It was almost haunting.
We walked on.
The second excavation was underwhelming at first, as most of the statues that had been uncovered were broken. That was before I realized that the entire pit looked like the aftermath of a battle between two statue armies. There were pieces and clay armour everywhere. The destruction was so thorough it did not look like either side had won. With my imagination in gear I was more impressed.
The first and largest pit had the majority of the warriors, most of which were still intact. Archaeologists had positioned many of the statues in formation for study at the back and towards the front of the building many still stood in battle array. The sight was by far the most interesting of the day, but crowds were beginning to form. It was time to move on.
City buses waited to take us to the tomb of the first emperor a kilometer away. The man made mountain loomed into view almost immediately and we could see that no one else had made their way to the tomb yet. Krista and I were the two of the first people through the gates.
Even after taking the bus it took nearly twenty minutes to walk through the silent grounds to where the fences stood, guarding the tree covered burial mound. The quiet made the experience eerie and we took the narrow paths around the mausoleum. Old walls and smaller burial pits dotted the countryside. They were not for warriors. Archaeologists suspect that the figures in the ground were the Emperorâ's servants and entertainers. They had been more brightly coloured than their martial counterparts and in smaller numbers. The pits were still being excavated a little at a time.
The gates to the tomb remain sealed until the government clears the site for safety while the countryside is examined for more artifacts. It will still be many years before all of the mysteries of the first Emperorâ's Tomb are unraveled.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition December 1, 2012