A day off, and luckily for me a beautiful sunny one, so decided to cycle round the city walls in the morning. False start with the first bike – after 500m the pedal fell off – but the second one just about lasted the distance. It was an exhilarating if boneshaking ride: 15km of elevated, cobbled dual-carriageway, and absolutely deserted.
But today was really about the Terracotta Warriors. The Xian Art Museum kindly offered to take me there and lay on a guide, a return favour for the dinner on Saturday. The site is just east of Xi’an, between a steep range of hills and a river. In 1974 some farmers were drilling for water when they came across pottery fragments. Archaeologists were called in and it turned out that the whole area was a treasure trove of life-size terracotta figures made around 230BC (each unique and originally multi-coloured) to accompany Emperor Qin into the afterlife. Qin is generally acknowledged as the first person to unite what is now China. It's estimated there are around 8,000 soldiers, 670 horses and 130 chariots in the three pits so far excavated. 'Estimated' because they haven't unearthed everything, even in these pits - and there may be many thousands more nearby, as evidenced by some exquisite half-size bronze horses and chariots found in a completely different spot.
All-in-all, it was kind of what I was expecting. There's the big 'wow' when you first enter Pit no.1, but actually there aren't that many complete figures. Pit no.2 is pretty much unexcavated. And Pit no.3 is very small and deep with just a few figures. On the other hand, the detail is amazing and if you can imagine what else is lying underground, then it really is an incredible place.