Xi'an - Ancient Chinese Capital and Home of the Terracotta Army

Some may ask, why Xi'an? This ancient city was China's first capital, and twelve dynasties of emperors ruled from Xi'an. Like the pharaohs of Egypt, tomb construction for a new emperor began the day he assumed the position. Almost 750,000 laborers worked on Qin Shihuang's mausoleum and surrounding area for the 49 years of his life. The huge mausoleum, which is bigger than the Great Pyramid at Giza, has yet to be excavated and is about a mile from the site where the terracotta warriors were found. Archaeologists work very slowly and precisely, so much of the area surrounding the mausoleum is also unexcavated. It is also important to note that there are over 600 sites within the area of almost 22 square miles surrounding the mausoleum, so in 40 years of digging, archaeologists have just scratched the surface.

01 of 05

Top Sight in Xi'an - The Terracotta Warrior Army

Army of Terracotta Warriors near Xi'an, China
Xi'an © Linda Garrison

The 8,000 statues making up the Army of terracotta warriors are not just the top sight in Xi'an, they are one of the top sights in all of China. Although this pottery Army was created over 2,200 years ago as part of the tomb of First Emperor Qin Shihuang, it was unknown until 1974 when farmers working in a field uncovered the first remains of this huge life-size Army built to provide protection for the dead emperor. One of these farmers is still alive and personally signs books every day in the gift shop on the site, which makes you realize that 40 years ago is not that long.

The site of the terracotta warriors and museum is about 25 miles outside of Xi'an and has three main pits, plus the museum. Pit #1 is the largest and looks much like an aircraft hangar. About 6,000 warriors and horses, all lined up in formation, are at the site, and archaeologists continue to uncover more every day. Pit #2 has over 1,300 figures, most of which are specialized fighters like archers or cavalrymen and their horses or chariots. Pit #3 only has 68 figures and most archaeologists believe it was the command center for the terracotta army. This pit also had many bronze weapons and gold, stone, and bronze decorations. The top general of the Army has not been identified, and some speculate that Qin Shihuang would have played this lead role in the afterlife. The Museum of Qin Terracotta Warriors and Horses is a modern building that houses some of the most spectacular excavated pieces. Visitors can get very close to these and appreciate the intricate details of the men, horses, chariots, and weapons.

After a half-day at the site, it was time to leave with our tour group, but memories of these fantastic terracotta warriors guarding their dead emperor will stay with all who visit forever.

Continuing our cruise tour in China, we stopped at a restaurant that had an excellent buffet, plus some Xi'an burgers, which were fresh chopped pork in a delicious bun. Kind of like a barbecue sandwich (without the sauce), but the bread was especially good. The highlight of lunch was the delicious homemade noodles.

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02 of 05

Making Noodles in Xi'an

Making Noodles in Xi'an, China
Xi'an © Linda Garrison

Watching these chefs make noodles and serve them steaming in a bowl was a great dining memory for me in China. This restaurant was located on the top floor of a three-story building that also had retail space dedicated to expensive lacquered furniture and terracotta Army replicas in all sizes. This type of shopping is an excellent presentation since those who love to shop can eat quickly and have more time to shop while those who do not want to shop can enjoy a leisurely lunch.

Our Viking River Cruises' tour bus returned to Xi'an after lunch, giving us plenty of time to explore the old city, and its mammoth walls and towers.

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03 of 05

Xi'an City Wall and Towers

Xi'an City Wall and Towers
Xi'an © Linda Garrison

Xi'an was once the starting point of the Silk Road leading to Europe. This road brought many different cultures into the old city, and their influence can still be seen inside the old city walls of Xi'an at the markets, Muslim Quarter, Great Mosque, Bell Tower, and Drum Tower. 

Visitors can walk, ride a bicycle, or ride in a golf cart along the top of the city walls. Xi'an has the most complete city wall in China, and it stretches for about 8.5 miles around the city and is about 40 feet tall. The wall is very thick and is as wide as a two-lane highway. Guard towers are found along the wall and the ramparts are spaced at a distance similar to that found on the Great Wall--the range of an arrow shot from either side will fend off any attackers. After climbing to the top of the wall near one of the four main gates, it's easy to find a bicycle or golf cart rental.

The views of the old and new Xi'an from the city wall are interesting. When in Xi'an, be sure to ride along the wall in the evening. The towers are lit up and very lovely.

The old city of Xi'an is fascinating, and those who enjoy history and theater should also get a ticket to see the Tang Dynasty Show in Xi'an.

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04 of 05

Tang Dynasty Show in Xi'an

Tang Dynasty Show
Tang Dynasty Show © Linda Garrison

The Tang Dynasty ruled China from 618 to 907 AD. This was one of China's most glorious cultural periods, and Xi'an has a Tang Dynasty show that features traditional song, dance, and colorful costumes of the period. We especially liked the live orchestra, with its ancient instruments.

The Tang Dynasty show has been in operation since 1988, and all of us were so glad we went. Our local guide said it was like Las Vegas, and the theater certainly had a Las Vegas look, with tables set up, and a huge stage flanked by smaller stages. Dinner was good, not great, with many small dishes brought by a waiter (no buffet or lazy Susan meal). The show was exceptional, with wonderful music, costumes, singing, and dancing, all from this ancient civilization. It was well worth the price of the optional Viking excursion.

Before flying to Chongqing the next afternoon, our Viking tour group spent a morning at the Shaanxi History Museum, one of China's national museums.

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05 of 05

Shaanxi History Museum

Terracotta Warriors in the Shaanxi History Museum
Shaanxi History Museum © Linda Garrison

The Shaanxi History Museum is one of Xi'an's best attractions and is a national museum of China. The museum has a marvelous collection of items from prehistoric times up through the Tang and pre-Ming periods. Many of the relics date back to Neolithic times from 5000 to 3000 BC. That's a long time ago.

However, since I am so enamored of the terracotta warriors, horses, and weapons, I was thrilled to see more of these artifacts on exhibit in the museum. Visitors can get very close to the items, and they aren't even enclosed in glass cases.

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