The 1974 discovery of thousands of life-sized Terracotta Warriors near Xian was one of the archaeological sensations of the 20th century. The figures date from 210 BC and were meant to guard the first emperor of China in the afterlife.
A huge statue of the emperor now guards the entrance to the Terracotta Warriors and Horses Museum, undeniable high point of any trip to Xian. To avoid disturbing these priceless treasures, they were left in situ with enormous structures now shielding them from the elements.
Three enormous pits are filled with row upon row of these remarkable effigies, with the first pit alone holding some 6,000 examples in excellent condition. There is a fourth exhibition space which holds other pieces found here, including bronze horses and chariots.
While the Big Wild Goose Pagoda - or Dayanta - follows the familiar pagoda format of successive levels diminishing in size the higher they get, this solid stone tower is largely free of the frills associated with such buildings. One of Xian’s oldest structures, it was built in 652 and originally had 10 levels, though the top 3 were later lost in an earthquake.
The pagoda played an important role in the spread of Buddhism in China. Relics, figurines and writings associated with the Buddha were brought here from India along the Silk Road which ends in Xian. You can still see statues of the Buddha and other religious figures inside.
Xi’an has one of the most extensive and best-preserved defensive walls in the world. This colossal structure was started under the Ming Dynasty in 1370, a few years before the Drum and Bell Towers, and replaced an earlier wall which encompassed a much larger area.
You can get an idea of the Xian City Wall's - or Chengqiang - extraordinary thickness on the wide terrace which surmounts it. There are 98 ramparts, each with its own sentry house, as well as 18 gateways, of which the most impressive is the South Gate. The huge rectangle is further encompassed by a moat, showing the builders were leaving nothing to chance. This is now complemented with charming landscaped gardens.
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