T he emperor established Xi’an as the capital of his emerging nation, naming it Chang’an—’Perpetual Peace— and enacted a series of large-scale reforms to consolidate his power.
In addition to standardizing language and law and building fortifications, palaces, and a system of roads, Qin Shi Huangdi ordered the construction of a Great Wall to defend his kingdom.
Qin Shi Huangdi was also responsible for the creation of the world- famous Terra Cotta Army— a life-size battalion of more than 8,000 soldiers and horses that were buried with the emperor upon his death.
Individually and painstakingly crafted out of clay, it’s said that, like snowflakes, no two figures are alike. What’s more, this large-scale arts-and-crafts project reportedly took more than 700,000 workers and artisans nearly 40 years to complete.
We can thank the emperor’s paranoia for the creation of this aesthetic masterpiece, which is often hailed as the “Eighth Wonder of the World.”
Apparently, Qin Shi Huangdi had made so many enemies during his reign that he deemed it necessary to have a full-scale army to protect him in the afterlife. The Terra Cotta Army is indeed formidable, as much for the remarkable hubris of the man who commissioned them as for the bellicose figures themselves.
Equally formidable is the notion that this inimitable cultural treasure might have been lost to the world forever. Although we now know that the imperial tomb was looted shortly after Qin Shi Huangdi’s burial (the invaders destroyed hundreds of statues and set a blazing fire that reportedly burned for three months), the Terra Cotta Army was soon forgotten.
And it remained forgotten for more than 2,000 years, until one spring day in 1974, when a group of farmers intent on digging a well unearthed instead a remarkable piece of Chinese history.
CITY OF ANCIENT TREASURES
While the Terra Cotta Army is undeniably the historical highlight of Xian, Qin Shi Huangdi’s soldiers are not the city’s only claim to fame. Xian is also home to the oldest, largest, and best-preserved City Wall in China.
Originally constructed during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD), the ancient fortification was extended and enhanced during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Rising more than 60 feet high, and ranging in thickness from 40 (at the top) to 60 feet (at the bottom), the City Wall is more than nine miles long, and surrounded by a deep moat. It all adds up to one spectacular panoramic view of the city.
Another Xian landmark is the Bell Tower (Zhong Lou), which marks the very geographic center of the ancient capital.
Built in 1384, its purpose was to keep time in the city, and it once housed the famous Jingyun Bell, a solid copper instrument of such superb quality that its sound was reportedly carried for miles.
Across town sits the Bell Tower’s “sister structure” the Drum Tower (Cu Lou). With their dark green glazed tiles, curling eaves, and gilded tops, both are colorful and dramatic examples of Ming-style architecture.
Historically, the Bell Tower’s instrument chimed at daybreak, while the drum in its sister tower was struck at sunset.
During the Ming Dynasty, the evening drum was used to maintain public order, upon hearing the ominotis noise from the Drum Tower, Xian residents were expected to immediately head for their homes, where they would stay for the rest of the night.
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