Xian 9/05

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An ancient capital in central China's Shaanxi province...

Qin Terra Cotta army excavation pit #1

Xian (pronounced See-An) is dubbed the 'eternal city' due to its role as one of the four great ancient capitals of the world (along with Athens, Cairo and Rome). Through Xian's 3100 year history, 13 dynasties including Zhou, Qin, Han and Tang had their capitals here. Ironically, the icon of Xian in modern times was discovered accidentally by peasants digging a well in 1974, when they unearthed the 2300 year old Qin Shi Huang burial site and its Terra Cotta army.

We arrived at Xian airport around 9am where we were met by our driver and guide. Xian seemed less congested and more modern than Beijing, although at 7 million people it is no small town and its history is actually much longer. We visited three major sites that day: the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, the Qin Shi Huang Terra Cotta army excavation and the Huaqing Hot Spring stopping only for an authentic Sichuan Hot Pot lunch.

Carved Buddha at Big Wild Goose Pagoda

We headed first to the 1400 year old Big Wild Goose Pagoda, located in a southern suburb. As Buddhism moved to China along the Silk Road in ancient times, the Big Wild Goose Pagoda functioned primarily to collect Buddhist materials from India taken by the hierarch Xuanzang (first picture above, entrance statue). Why it is called Big Wild Goose Pagoda? According to legend, there were two Buddhist branches, for one of which eating meat was not a taboo. One day, they couldn't find meat to buy. Upon seeing a group of big wild geese flying by, a monk said: 'Today we have no meat. I hope the merciful Bodhisattva will give us some.' At that very moment, the leading wild goose broke its wings and fell to the ground. All the monks were startled and believed that Bodhisattva showed his spirit to order them to be more pious. They established a pagoda where the wild goose fell and stopped eating meat.


Another version attributes the shape of the of the corners at each tier to the form of a goose's wings in flight (second picture above). Entering the courtyard flanked by a bell and drum tower, is an ornate incense burner (third picture above). Before the Pagoda, the Hall of Mahavira houses three carved Sakyamuni statues (large picture top of page right). Beyond the 60 meter tall Pagoda is the Hall of Xuanzang Sanzang with ornate carvings in ivory, wood and jade (fourth picture above), with its view of the back of the Pagoda (fifth picture above). Leaving the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, we headed downtown for an authentic Sichuan Hot Pot lunch, where we cooked our own mutton, noodles and veggies in a vat of boiling broth.

Qin Shi Huang ascended to the throne at age 13 in 246BC. He was to become the first emperor of all of China. Along that route he made a lot of enemies, so he fashioned his burial grounds, which took 39 years to complete, with an army of over 7000 terra cotta warriors and horsemen set in battle formation to protect him in the afterlife (large picture top of page left and third picture above). The figures each stand approximately 5'11" and while no two are alike, they can be grouped by types: chariot warriors (first picture above), infantrymen (second picture above), cavalrymen, and horses (fourth picture above). There are generals (fifth picture above), middle ranking officers, lower ranking officers, ordinary soldiers, and armored warriors. The latter can be further divided according to their headgear into warriors with a square scarf, a cylindrical bun (second picture above), or a flat bun. There are both standing and kneeling warriors. Originally the figures were painted bright colors, but over 2000 years of standing guard the colors have faded.


The excavation site was discovered in 1974 by some peasants digging a well and consists of four large pits and staging areas (first picture below) which have all been covered by building structures to prevent damage to the site. The emperor's tomb itself (second picture below) has not been opened and much of the second, third and fourth pits on the site have not been fully uncovered yet. In addition to all the terra cotta figures, bronze chariots were uncovered, partially restored (third picture below) and are on display in a museum next to the site.

Leaving the Terra Cotta army site in the late afternoon, we made a quick stop in town to visit the Huaqing Hot Spring, site of a 6000 year old natural hot spring and 3000 year old palace made famous as the romantic getaway for Emperor Xuanzong and his beautiful concubine Yang Guifei (statue fourth picture above) in the seventh century. There are a series of hot spring-fed pools in buildings that surround a man-made lake. From the Huaqing Hot Spring we headed to Xian airport for our evening return to Beijing.

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