Chambers at Large in Xi'an: Wild Goose Pagoda, Terracotta Warriors & the City Wall
If there is one city I would like to see more of in China it’s Xi’an.
On arriving in this historic walled city I was taken to the strangely named, Wild Goose Pagoda, a formidable structure, which is 1300 years old, an awesome stop on the Silk Road. Being built on a saucer, allowing the foundations to move with the earth, it has survived three earthquakes. (Rather like Weebles wobble, but they don’t fall down!)
It split slightly, but was repaired and is certainly an impressive fifteen storey, dusky brown building, built to house manuscripts conveying the teachings of Buddha. Now, no monks are present, but the beautiful gardens still remain.
In 1974, Mr Yang, whilst digging a well, discovered what I consider to be one of the most historical sites on the planet: the Terracotta Warriors. Initially the farmer thought he had unearthed a real person as the clay figure was painted. Sadly the paint fades and dies on contact with the air, so a means of preserving ones still underground needs to be found.
Leaving the hotel at 9am promptly, I arrived at the site at 9.45 and it was already jammed with tourists. The warriors are housed in aircraft like hangars of chrome, marble and steel and it was overwhelming for two reasons. Firstly the Chinese have no respect for personal space and it’s a free for all to elbow one’s way to the front in order to get a good view of the warriors, lined up in rows beneath a viewing platform.
Secondly, the warriors are 6 ft to 6.4 ft tall, which is tall for a Chinaman. The detailed costumes they wear reveal their rank as well as their function: archer, cavalry, foot soldier.
The only regret is they are not carrying their weapons, their hands are empty, but these are on display in a museum with the half size horses and chariots ready to convey the Emperor Qin Shi Huang into the afterlife.
The warriors are therefore from the Qin (Chin) dynasty and I learned when the emperor died, 700,000 of his servants and warriors were killed in order they follow him into the afterlife.
The emperor himself is buried some 1.5km away, encased in mercury in the hope it would preserve his body. It’s too dangerous to excavate, the challenge being to find a cost effective way to do so.
Excavation work is still being done within the hangars and is likely to persist for hundreds of years as the chances of finding hundreds more of these impressive statues is high. Some sources state each figure is unique, others say some are the same. I didn’t see a similar face, let alone a similar statue, each being unique to my untrained eye. I was expecting to see more warriors, but some maybe on tour. If they are coming your way, I strongly suggest you see them.
At 3pm, having walked through a concrete jungle of shops on my way out I made my way in the 38 degree heat to the city wall which is rectangular.
Nobody else was around and I mean nobody. It really was a case of made dogs and Englishmen, but I’d come this far and I wasn’t to be denied.
There are several watchtowers around the seven mile wall and the one I saw up close and personal was a rectangular wooden structure, beautifully carved with a painted frieze and a curved (typical oriental roof). It really was striking, but the wall itself was quite plain. Climbing up about 30 steps I arrived at a pavement to the left, completely straight, and turning right an exact mirror copy. Unlike the city wall in Derry, which twists and turns the one in Xi’an is a perfect rectangle.
It goes around the city and in the middle is a bell tower, which in olden times was struck to let people know the time. Xi’an is the most central city in China, the bell the most central point in Xi’an. Of course, I left my phone on the coach and was unable to take a photograph! An excuse to return one day, if ever there was one.