As human beings, we are cursed by the knowledge of our own mortality. Aware that it’s an impossibility to cheat death, many concern their lifetime with the pursuit of preparation for the afterlife. Throughout history, many of the world’s most powerful individuals have spent countless riches to ensure that they live the same lavish luxury, equipped with ‘grave goods’ and items they may need in the spirit world.
One such man who yearned for a prosperous hereafter was Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China who died at the modest age of 49 after reigning from 246BC to 210BC. Qin Shi Huang ascended the throne at just 13 years of age, and soon set plans in motion to begin work on the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor.
It was a good job he did. The monumental site at the foot of Li Mountain took an incredible 38 years to complete. Modeled on the Qin capital Xianyang, the underground mausoleum is divided into inner and outer cities and has a total circumference of a staggering 6.3km. One of the most recognizable features of the mausoleum is without question The Terracotta Army – statues of soldiers supposedly built to serve as a garrison to protect the emperor in the afterlife.
It wasn’t until fairly recently that The Terracotta Army was discovered, and even then it was somewhat by chance. Members of a local hill tribe were digging a well to the east of the Qin Emperor’s tomb mound. They discovered large chunks of masonry which, when examined by experts, prompted further investigation.
Excavation work eventually uncovered four pits of stone figures containing over 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses, all life-sized, each with unique features. The magnificent display is certainly elaborate, and is simply an amazing spectacle.
Chinese history books claim approximately 700,000 men were needed in the construction of the intricate site. While the Terracotta Army was constructed to guard the emperor in the spirit world, booby traps were also installed to defend his riches and remains from opportunists.
Sadly for those working on the project, secrecy of the site and its defenses had to be protected. And so it was, the workers and craftsmen were apparently buried alive along with the emperor’s childless concubines. A sickening reward for a job well done!
Many of our exceptional China tours take in the spectacular site of the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor and his Terracotta Army, such as our 11-day, 10-night Essential China trip for example. If you’re thinking of visiting China sometime soon, be sure to contact our Backyard Travel China specialist who’ll be happy to help with advice and can tailor an individual tour to your desires.