Starting along the Silk Road

by Andrew Matheson

Our journey along China’s Silk Road has begun at the road’s eastern end, at Xi’an.  Described by Marco Polo as “a very great and fine city”, Xi’an is fascinating for how it reveals the impact the Silk Road had on bringing ideas and religions from central Asia right into the heart of China.  We saw that at an active Buddhist pagoda, and a mosque built like a traditional Chinese temple complex.   But most people come here for something quite different.

The terracotta warriors are truly amazing, and it’s well worth coming to this part of China just to see them.  Over 2,200 years old, this army of life-sized warriors, horses and chariots was put together to protect the tomb of China’s first emperor as a kind of afterlife guard.  We looked at three separate pits that together contain about 8,000 figures in battle formation, and the detail and precision of the army is quite breath-taking.

After Emperor Quin Shi Huang died the tomb was covered up.  It seems the location of the tomb was lost to memory.  The story goes that famers digging a well in 1974 discovered one part of the tomb, and excavations over the next few years revealed two more pits.

This is one of China’s, and the world’s, great sights.  We were privileged to start our tour here.  Our journey next takes us along the Silk Road into China’s interior.