Robbery reported at Chinese Terracotta Warriors tomb

Chinese officials announced this week that the world-famous tomb of Emperor Qin Shihuang, also known as the location of the Terracotta Warriors, was recently broken into by robbers. Nine men are being held in connection with the break-in, during which several ancient coffins were damaged and priceless relics removed.

According to reports, robbers dug a 90 foot tunnel leading into the mausoleum complex, complete with electric lights and ventilation fans. Though the robbery was discovered last month, the news has only recently come to light due to the sensitivity of the story. In recent years Xi’an, China, the city that houses the tomb and Warriors, has become an increasingly popular destination for tourists.

The looting of ancient relics is an increasingly profitable business; robbers often sell their finds to collectors on the black market for large sums. The larger question is what do about it: as these priceless artifacts disappear, whether by theft or vandalism, the damage is not so easily replaced.

[Flickr photo by kevinpoh]

Photo of the Day (12.07.08)

I don’t think this Chinese Terracotta warrior ever expected to become a 21st Century sex symbol. Flickr user troshy seems to be worried about this guy’s popularity though, so he gave him some cool aviator shades. I know nothing about the rules regarding touching or interacting with these statues, but I do really like the contrast – it ends up looking like a 200 B.C. US Weekly photo. Pretty hilarious.

Have any unique travel photos you’d like to share with the world? Why not upload them to the Gadling pool on Flickr? We might just pick one as our Photo of the Day.

Terracotta Tennis Players?

When the world’s tennis greats arrive in Shanghai for the ATP Tennis Masters Tournament in November, they’ll be greeted by life-sized sculptures of themselves immortalized as Terracotta Warriors. In a nod to the world-famous Terracotta Army, The Association of Tennis Professionals has commissioned eight sculptures of the world’s top eight tennis players, including Roger Federer and Andy Roddick. They’ve hired sculptor Laury Dizengremel to complete the pieces.

Federer’s statue has been completed and shown in pictures, but the rest won’t be unveiled until the tournament in November. Check out this video for a glimpse at what goes into each finished product.

The original Terracotta Army was created in 210-209 BC to be buried with the Emperor of Qin. But instead of one sculptor, there were 700,000 working on the originals, and it supposedly took 38 years to complete them all.

Chinese Buffet – Part 18: Xi’an Excursion Day Two

Chinese Buffet is a month-long series that chronicles the travels of an American woman who visited China for the first time in July 2007.

(Note: Read Day One of the Xi’an Excursion and some recently announced news about the Terracotta Warriors upcoming visit to the USA!)

After a filling breakfast at the Hyatt’s massive buffet, we piled in the car with Bob and headed out for another full day of sightseeing. The Banpo Museum is on the eastern outskirts of the city, along the way towards the Terracotta Warriors. It is the excavated site of an ancient neolithic village that dates to 4500 BC, over 6,000 years ago!

Discovered in 1953, archaeologists have determined that the village was inhabited by the Yangshao, and each section of the dig site exhibits different aspects of how they lived. We walked through several rooms full of relics – ceramic bowls, clay pots and ancient tools used for fishing and hunting.

After this quick stop, we drove about an hour to the site of the Terracotta Army. The road was jammed with tour buses and we sat in traffic for awhile. Bob navigated us there as quickly as he could, sometimes using the access lane to pass other vehicles — our daredevil driver!

A golf cart was our next mode of transport. The Terracotta Army complex of excavated pits is quite far from the parking lot, so we decided to splurge on the round-trip golf cart ride that stops directly in front of the actual museum entrance. A visit to the Terracotta Army costs 90 RMB (about $12 bucks) and the golf cart was an additional six yuan — no big expense.

But be warned!! The ride, although cheap, is advertised as round-trip — which it is NOT.

I’m jumping ahead here for a moment…

After spending several hours walking around the warrior museum, we boarded another golf cart for our ride back to the parking lot. But the return trip only goes a short distance, before passengers are asked to disembark and walk through a huge new pedestrian shopping strip lined with vendors hawking souvenirs. For some reason this really bugged me:

I can’t say I was surprised to see this commercialized exit extravaganza, but I was irked that we were forced to walk through it. We thought we had paid for a ride back to the parking lot…which would have been nice, especially for a four-year-old and his pregnant mommy!

But I digress…

The actual viewing of the warriors was wonderful, so let me get back to that.

This grand army of stone statues was discovered in 1974 by peasants who were digging a well in a field. They uncovered the burial grounds of Emperor Qin Shi Huang, a now famous World Heritage site. There are three main pits and we spent about two hours moving through them. The first building, essentially an airplane hangar, houses the most impressive collection of the life-size soldiers and horses. There are more than 1,000 figures, and amazingly, only one fifth of this site has been excavated:

Archaeologists have determined that no two soldiers are the same. They wear various coats of armor, display different levels of rank, and have unique facial expressions and hairstyles:

The second pit we visited was much smaller, and full of headless warriors and guys in pieces:

And the third pit is still largely unexcavated and said to possibly hold more warriors than the first two pits combined. In total, estimates predict there may be over 8,000 warrior and horse relics buried in the area. It really is incredible to see them all together like this and thing about what went into the process to create this life-size army. We took time out for a touristy moment in this third building:

And then began the journey back to the parking lot to meet Bob — a short golf cart ride followed by a long walk through the new Terracotta Warriors International Shopping Plaza, full of signs like this one:

An authentic experience — until the end, in my opinion. I’m just not a fan of consumerism shoved down my throat, and after viewing such an ancient and sacred memorial, the barrage of souvenir stands and yells from store clerks just left me feeling grumpy.

Bob next offered to take us to the actual tomb of Qin Shi Huang, located just a short ride from the Terracotta Museum. But we decided to pass, since we’d read that it’s just an artificial hill with not much else to see. We ate our lunch in the car as he drove us to our final stop, the Huaqing Pool:

The hot springs and imperial bathhouses located at the foot of Lishan Mountain were very popular with the emperors, who would spend the winters here keeping warm. There is a lift that goes to the top of the mountain, but there would not have been much to see on such a hazy afternoon. We got a kick out of the restrooms, formerly the site of the Imperial Toilet:

We took another golf cart here, because, well….we were exhausted:

We had hit a wall. And knew that it was time to stop:

Ryan had surely had his fill of “adult things”, as he often referred to our sightseeing adventures. He had the right idea for how to spend the hour ride to the airport:

Beth and I were happy to be done with “adult things” for awhile as well. I felt like a slacker for even admitting that I was tired — she’s about five months pregnant and responsible for an active four-year-old as well. What was my excuse for feeling like a weary road warrior?! We joined Ryan for an afternoon siesta, which gave us just enough energy to make it through the uneventful flight home.

It was a jam-packed journey. I don’t usually travel that “fast” but it wasn’t a horrible way to see the main attractions in a short amount of time. Overall, Xi’an is surely worth a visit, and I’ve read that there are lots of other scenic side trips that can be taken from the city center. For me, what made the trip special was my traveling companions. I’m not sure I would have enjoyed the visit as much if I had done it solo. In fact, I know I wouldn’t have. What’s memorable is that we conquered Xi’an (but not it’s city wall) together!

Chinese Buffet – Part 17: Xi’an Excursion Day One

Chinese Buffet is a month-long series that chronicles the travels of an American woman who visited China for the first time in July 2007.

One of the places that my friend Beth really wanted to see before leaving China was the historic city of Xi’an, so she invited me to join her and Ryan on an overnight excursion to the home of the Terracotta Army.

We began our trip to this very ancient city by taking the super-modern Maglev train to the Pudong airport. This state-of-the-art magnetic levitation train transports passengers 20 miles in a mere seven minutes. For 50 RMB (one-way ticket), you can get to the airport in a flash, and experience the thrill of going from 0 to 427 km/h in just five minutes:

(It was my poor photography skills – and not the speed of the train – that prevented me from getting a smooth shot on this second picture. But you get the idea, right? It’s a FAST train.)

For travelers arriving in Shanghai via the airport, the Maglev may not be your best option, since it doesn’t run into the central part of the city. It goes only as far as the Longyang Road Station in Pudong, which is still quite a ways from downtown Shanghai. But you can get the metro from there and continue your journey into the city that way.

But getting back to the airport…

We got to Pudong International with plenty of time to catch our China Eastern Airlines flight to Xi’an. The flight was less than two hours, leaving me just enough time to read up a bit on our destination. We were headed to the capital of Shaanxi province, a city of more than five million, that at one time served at the imperial capital of China. We were making the trip, like so many others do, primarily to see the Terracotta Warriors. But we hoped to squeeze in a few other sights as well.

Thanks to our own personal tour guide, we were able to do just that. Bob, a private driver who contracts work through the Hyatt Hotel, picked us up at Xi’an’s airport (40 minutes away from the city) and right away offered us an optional sightseeing stop on the way to into town:

Bob suggested we visit Xianyang, the site of China’s very first dynasty, the Qin. Relics from the former palace of Qin Shi Huang have been gathered into a museum with two main sections. First, we visited a building which housed many of these relics, including a miniature terracotta army:

The uniforms and costumes that the figures had been dressed with are now long gone, leaving these poor little guys naked. (There were a few female figures discovered at this site as well.) The second section of the complex is an underground museum, where we could walk above and around the excavation site, wearing blue scrub slippers they provide:

This was the first of several archaeological dig sites we would visit over the next two days. Since Ryan’s a dinosaur fan, he especially enjoyed seeing these dirt pits full of bones. But no Tyrannosaurus Rex here…

A theme of old vs. new seemed to be running through our adventure. We took the modern Maglev to begin our journey to a historic ancient city full of relics from the past. Yet the city is far from old anymore.

The contrasts continued as Bob drove us through the hectic streets of this booming manufacturing hub:

We passed a Home Depot on the way to the Hyatt, and I marveled once again at the constant boom of construction that defines modern China. I wondered, what would those ancient warriors think of all this growth?

Xi’an’s famous city wall soon came into view. We had read that renovation had recently been completed to the wall so visitors could now walk or bike around the entire top. After a visit to the bell tower, we attempted to gain access to the wall, but were repeatedly unsuccessful. We walked the perimeter of one section where we had been told there was an entrance. But it was smack in the middle of a dangerous roundabout loaded with speeding cars, bikes and buses. Ryan was a trooper, following along during our futile attempt to get on the wall. Eventually, we sat for a drink and felt kinda like the guy at the table behind us:

So we gave up. Some walls are just not meant to be scaled…by us, anyway! We took it as a sign that we should be hunting out some good food instead of access to an ancient wall. Good warriors we’d make, huh?

We’ll be laughing about our adventure mishap for a really long time. And we started over dinner — yummy pizza and a round of darts at the Hyatt’s pub and pizzeria:

Bob was coming back at 8 am to take us to see the Terracotta Army, so we were soon off to bed. Part two of our Xi’an excursion will continue tomorrow…