The Terracotta Warriors

Impressive ceramic army of the first emperor

Country: China | Type: Cultural | Theme: Burial 

Introduction to the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor

In 1961, three peasant workers from the tiny Yangeun-west village stumbled upon a pit containing statues of terracotta warriors. The commencement of excavation began shortly thereafter. The site is named after Ying Zheng who was the ruler of the State of Qin at the time of the Warring States Period from 246-221 BCE. He was a very important king in Chinese history because he eventually became the first emperor of unified China. He and his chief advisor also enacted significant political and economic reforms and pursued expansive construction projects such as the Great Wall of China, a national road network, and this mausoleum. The mausoleum is famously guarded by a terracotta army of life-sized proportions.

The Qin Shi Mausoleum is in fact the biggest conserved mausoleum in China. It is a microcosm of the Middle Country, or Zhonggou. Qin Shi Huang desired to united and fortify this area from invading hoards who could attack from any direction. This is reflected in the formation of the statues with the army that guards the deceased emperor facing out rather than in towards the tomb. The mausoleum is situated approximately 35 kilometers from Xian. It can be recognized by its impressive 43-meter-high mound. The shape and layout of the mausoleum directly reflects the plan of the capital. The imperial palace is surrounded by the city walls, which are surrounded by another wall. The first inner room is square in shape containing doors located in the middle of each of the four walls. These doors correlate to the four cardinal positions. Around this enclosure is another of rectangular shape that is situated in a north-south direction. The superstructures of the mausoleum have vanished so that there is only a wooded knoll occupying a 350 meter base, which looks like a pyramid with its apex cut off by the plane. The site of the mausoleum complex is a sprawling 56,250 square kilometers.

This massive structure required the labor of approximately 700,000 men, according to Sima Qian, a Chinese historian who wrote his history a century after the death of the emperor. Each terracotta soldier was composed with mix-and-match molds of clay and then given individual features by the artist. On some of the warrior statues a substance of barium copper silicate pigments, known as Han Purple, was used as a medium. The details on the warriors include their uniforms as well as their weapons. The artists also added halters for the horses.

This tomb was one of the initial projects undertaken by the king before he became emperor. In some depictions of the tomb, copies of beautiful towers and palaces as well as “rare utensils and wonderful objects” are described. There are also descriptions of 100 mercury rivers and crossbows in place to shoot anyone who dared to enter. Archaeologists have been probing the tombs and have discovered high concentrations of mercury which lend credence to the legend that such rivers exist in the tomb.

There is one pit that is home to approximately 6,000 warrior and horse statues in a gallery of 230 meters in length. The pit is enclosed by an on-site museum. There are two other pits to the north of the first pit. The second pit contains about 1,500 carts, warriors and horses as well as 68 dignitaries and officers. The third pit has four horses and a cart in its confines. On the flanks of the great hall’s south and north ends are exhibitions rooms with objects taken from the pits.

On the mound’s western slopes, two half life-sized molten bronze quadrigae were discovered. It has been estimated that the terracotta statue army of the mausoleum in fact is an accurate representation of the emperor’s standing army.

In addition to the terracotta horses and warriors, the mausoleum is also home to carts of a funerary nature composed of bronze, which all collectively are important artistic works in the canon of Chinese sculpture before the Han dynasty era.

This magnificent burial chamber was constructed for Qin Shi Huang, or Ying Zheng, who was China’s first emperor. He ruled from 221-210 BCE. He made plans for the realization of his place of interment prior to becoming the emperor. Upon his ascension to the kingship of Qin in 247 BCE, he selected a burial place for himself at the base of Mount Li, based on the recommendations of his geomancers. The lengthy construction period of his burial place spanned across the decades with renewed vigor at each of his military and political accomplishments, over and beyond the efforts of his competitors the Zhao, Chu, Qi, Han and Wei. Construction at his burial grounds became particularly energetic after the Empire of Ten Thousand Generations was declared in 221 BCE. By the accounts of Sima Qian, a collector of his contemporary oral traditions, there were upwards of 700,000 workers hailing from each of the Empire’s provinces who worked without cease until the Emperor’s death in order to build the underground city. In fact, the city nearly equalled the size of the imperial palace. Upon the completion of the tomb with the emperor interred, weapons with automatic triggers were put in place and the workers who constructed them were walled in so that they could not tell others about their secret work.

Ticketing hours are from 8:30-17:30 from March 16th to November 14th and from 8:30-17:00 from November 15th to March 15th. It is recommended to allot at least three hours for touring the mausoleum.

The Airport Shuttle Line 2 goes to the Xian Railway Station from the Xian Xianyang International Airport. From there the bus leaves every hour beginning at 9:14 until 17:15 at 1F of T2. Tourism bus numbers 5, 914 and 915 depart from the Xian Railway Station. Alight from the bus at the terminal station. The trip occupies approximately an hour. Taxis are also available for hire. There are also bus numbers 914, 915 and Special Line 101 that depart from Lintong District. Alight at the Terracotta Warrior Museum. This route from Lintong District takes approximately 15 minutes.

Key Facts

Nearest City:Xian
Coordinates: Lat: 34.3911, Long: 109.2890


  • Important works of the pre-Han Dynasty era
  • Random discovery by Chinese peasants
  • Largest preserved mausoleum in China
  • Built by first emperor of China
  • First construction during the Warring States Period
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