Xi'an

Our hotel was the Gudu Wenhua Hotel. A completely bland and immediately forgettable hotel. This hotel is neither good nor bad, but it is certainly not memorable. It is bland to the extent that a month later you will have forgotten most things about it! In fact the only memorable point about the hotel was that our room overlooked the temple at the back.

I must confess we did not have a problem with any night-time noise from the temple gongs, and we visited the temple during the day There were problems with service at breakfast. In fact it was difficult to get any service In short, you come to Xi'an to visit the Terracotta Warriors, and many tour operators, like ours, put guests up in this large hotel. If you have been booked here, then there is nothing to look forward to other than an average hotel - though there was a reasonable indoor pool, for which one needed a cap.

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The Terracotta Warriors

So, the Terracotta Warriors at last. To get to the site you are transported in little electric buses. I assume this is to monitor the rate at which crowds can reach the warriors. Certainly when we were there in September, the place was very crowded. We had to wait to find gaps in the crowds in order to get to a vantage point on the edge of the pit.

The warriors themselves are displayed, in situ, in 3 large buildings. In one of these buildings restoration of the individual warriors has progressed, in the others you do not see many actual warriors, but get an idea of what the site was like before much excavation work was done. Essentially the warriors were placed in trenches, and the trenches then covered with a roof supported on wooden rafters. The rafters collapsed over the passage of time, and many of the warriors were smashed into smithereens. They are now being painstakingly put back together. It is surprising what money can do in restoring the fragments to their original condition.

The Terracotta Army depicts the armies of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China. It is a form of funerary art buried with the emperor in 210–209 BCE and whose purpose was to protect the emperor in his afterlife.

The Army was discovered in 1974 to the east of Xi'an by farmers digging a water well. For centuries, occasional reports mentioned pieces of terracotta figures and fragments of the Qin necropolis – roofing tiles, bricks and chunks of masonry. This discovery prompted Chinese archaeologists to investigate, revealing the largest pottery figurine group ever found in China. A museum complex has since been constructed over the area.

The Terracotta Army is in fact part of a much larger necropolis. Ground-penetrating radar and core sampling have measured the area to be approximately 38 square miles. Up to 5 metres of reddish, sandy soil had accumulated over the site in the two millennia following its construction, and archaeologists found evidence of earlier disturbances at the site. During the excavations near the Mount Li burial mound, archaeologists found several graves dating from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, where diggers had apparently struck terracotta fragments. These were discarded as worthless and used along with soil to back fill the excavations.

The terracotta figures themselves are life-sized. They vary in height, uniform, and hairstyle in accordance with rank. The faces appear different for each individual figure; however scholars have identified 10 basic face shapes. The figures are of these general types: armoured warriors; unarmoured infantrymen; cavalrymen who wear a pillbox hat; helmeted driver of chariots with more armour protection; spear-carrying charioteers; kneeling archers who are armoured; standing archers who are not; as well as generals and other lower-ranking officers. There are however many variations in the uniforms within the ranks, for example, some may wear shin pads while others not; they may wear either long or short trousers, some of which may be padded; and their body armours vary depending on rank, function, and position in formation. There are also terracotta horses placed among the warrior figures. Originally, the figures were painted with bright pigments, variously coloured pink, red, green, blue, black, brown, white and lilac. The coloured lacquer finish and individual facial features would have given the figures a realistic feel. However, much of the colour coating has flaked off or become greatly faded.

The terracotta soldiers were manufactured in workshops by government labourers and local craftsmen using local materials. Heads, arms, legs, and torsos were created separately and then assembled by joining the pieces together. When completed, the terracotta figures were placed in the pits in precise military formation according to rank and duty. The faces were created using molds, and at least ten face molds may have been used. Clay was then added after assembly to provide individual facial features to make each figure appear different. This would classify the process as assembly line production, with specific parts manufactured and assembled after being fired, as opposed to crafting one solid piece and subsequently firing it. In those times of tight imperial control, each workshop was required to inscribe its name on items produced to ensure quality control. This has helped modern historians in verifying which workshops produced which parts for the terracotta army.

reconstruction of original colours

Most of the figures originally held real weapons such as spears, swords, or crossbows. Most of the original weapons, however, were looted shortly after the creation of the army, or have rotted away. Nevertheless, many weapons have been found in the pits and over 40,000 bronze items of weaponry have been recovered.

An important element of the army is the chariot, of which four types were found. In battle the fighting chariots formed pairs at the head of a unit of infantry. For close fighting and defence, both charioteers and infantrymen carried double-edged straight swords. The archers carried crossbows, with sophisticated trigger mechanisms, capable of shooting arrows farther than 800 metres.

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Big Wild Goose Pagoda

This is a Buddhist pagoda. It was built in 652 during the Tang dynasty and originally had five stories. One of the pagoda's many functions was to hold sutras and figurines of the Buddha that were brought to China from India by the Buddhist translator and traveler Xuanzang. The Empress Wu Zetian had the pagoda rebuilt and added five new stories by the year 704; however, a massive earthquake in 1556 heavily damaged the pagoda and reduced it by three stories, to its current height of seven stories. The entire structure leans very perceptibly (several degrees) to the west. The Giant Wild Goose Pagoda was extensively repaired during the Ming dynasty (1368–1644) and renovated again in 1964.

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The Street Food

Hungry people the Chinese. When we walked around it was really staggering how much food was available on the streets. Mountains of kebabs on skewers, tons of sweets of various sorts (all made on the premises), and more fresh bread than one would think would be sold in the day

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The Great Mosque

This is the largest mosque in China. It is an active place of worship within Xi'an's Muslim Quarter. The majority of the mosque was built during the early Ming dynasty. It now houses more than twenty buildings in its five courtyards, and covers 12,000 square meters.

Each courtyard contains a central monument, such as a gate, and is lined with greenery as well as subsidiary buildings. The first courtyard contains a Qing dynasty monumental gate, while the fourth courtyard houses the Phoenix Pavilion, a hexagonal gazebo. Many walls throughout the complex are filled with inscriptions of birds, plants, objects, and text, both in Chinese and Arabic. Stone steles record repairs to the mosque and feature calligraphic works.

The prayer hall is located in the fourth courtyard. It is a very large timber building with a turquoise hip roof, painted dougong (wooden brackets), a six-pillared portico, and five doors. It is raised upon a large stone platform lined with balustrades. Interior ornamentation is centred on the rear qibla wall, which has wooden carvings of floral and calligraphic designs.

Overall, the mosque's architecture combines a traditional Chinese architectural form with Islamic functionality. For example, whereas traditional Chinese buildings align along a north-south axis in accordance with feng shui, the mosque is directed west towards Mecca, while still conforming to the axes of the imperial city. Furthermore, calligraphy in both Chinese and Arabic writing appears throughout the complex. Some scholars also speculate that the three-story, octagonal pagoda in the third courtyard originally served as the mosque's minaret, used for the call to prayer.

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The Chinese Writing Demonstration

A bit of a cheesy tourist trap, where guides are paid to deliver punters by the dozen. Here they showed one how Chinese writing was done with brush and ink. The boys learnt how to write "Silk Road" in Chinese. And a number of paintings were for sale as well.

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Xi'an City Walls

Xi'an City Walls are one of the oldest, largest and best preserved Chinese city walls. They were built under the rule of the Hongwu Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang as a military defence system. The wall exhibits the "complete features of the rampart architecture of feudal society". It has been refurbished many times since it was built in the 14th century, thrice at intervals of about 200 years in the later half of the 1500s and 1700s, and in recent years in 1983. The wall encloses an area of about 14 sq mi. The Xi'an City Wall is on the tentative list of UNESCO's World Heritage Site under the title "City Walls of the Ming and Qing Dynasties".

The Xi'an Wall is rectangular in shape and has a total length of about 9 miles, with almost all stretches subjected to some kind of restoration or rebuilding. Along the top of the wall is a walkway, which would typically take four hours to cover. As a defence fortification, it was constructed with a moat, drawbridges, watch towers, corner towers, parapet walls and gate towers. The wall is 40ft in height with a width of 40 to 45 ft at the top . Ramparts are built at intervals of 130 yards, projecting from the main wall. There are parapets on the outer side of the wall, built with 5,984 crenels, which form "altogether protruding ramparts". There are four watch towers, located at the corners and the moat that surrounds the wall is 20 yards wide

We got there just as it was getting dark, and the lit building were spectacular

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On to next town - Xiahe

Back to Overall Itinerary for Silk Road Trip 2016