The first week that we moved to Wellington we went to see Te Papa Museum’s landmark exhibition: Terracotta Warriors: Guardians of Immortality. Enshrined in darkness and dim light, the exhibition feels like being submerged into the underworld. The exhibition offers you a rare opportunity to have an intimate and immersive encounter with remarkable treasures from 2,000 years ago, from the tomb of Qin Shihuang, China’s First Emperor. I highly recommend it!
The Story of the discovery of the Terracotta Warriors
Equally fascinating was how the treasure trove was discovered. In 1974, local farmers in Xi’an in China discovered the warriors. The figures vary in height according to their roles, with the tallest being the generals. The figures include warriors, chariots and horses. Each figure is completely unique in stature, face, hairstyle and clothing, according to their rank within the army. This makes these life-sized models all very human in appearance.
Estimates from 2007 were that three pits contain more than 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses, and 150 cavalry horses, the majority of which remained buried in the pits. Although in addition to the warriors there were non-military figures like strongmen, musicians, officials and acrobats.
Why was it built?
The Terracotta Army was built to protect the tomb of Qin Shihuang (210-209 BC), the first emperor of China. The sheer extravagance of this construction spoke volumes about his power, and the loyalty of his acolytes and ensured his immortality after death.
Sometimes dubbed Qin’s army, the Terracotta Warriors were buried alongside Emperor Qin in the hope that they would protect him in the afterlife.
Like the Ancient Egyptians, the Ancient Chinese believed that inanimate objects such as statues of people and animals would come alive in the afterlife. At this intersection of the spirit world and the real world there exists an eerie conduit and this became apparent in this moving and wonderful exhibition.
Some people think that the Terracotta Warriors are the eighth wonder of the world. In China the full exhibition of the army is a UNESCO heritage site. It’s a must-see for history buffs.
The Te Papa exhibition features eight warriors standing 180 centimetres tall, and two full-size horses from the famous terracotta army – as well as two half-size replica bronze horse-drawn chariots.
Also on display are more than 160 exquisite works of ancient Chinese art made from gold, jade, and bronze. The works date from the Western Zhou to the Han dynasties (1046 BCE – 220 CE), and were found in imperial tombs in and around China’s ancient capital, Xi’an.
Audio guide by historian Duncan Campbell
I really recommend getting the audio guide that goes along with the tour. The atmospheric soundscapes and compelling voice of Historian Duncan Campbell bring key treasures in the exhibition to life in a completely vivid and immersive way. We really got more out of this exhibition by paying for the audio tour for $5.50.