Terracotta Travelers

Terracotta Army 1

For as long as I’ve known of their existence I have longed to see them. Forever after I assumed that meant going to China and, given our travel plans, China always seemed forever away. It never really occurred to me that they might actually come here. You see, they don’t get around much and I can’t really blame them, being clay and all.

It was a rendezvous roughly 2,259 years in the making, but here in San Francisco, of all places, I finally got to visit briefly with China’s Terracotta Army. Built to protect the First Emperor in the afterlife, this life-sized army of over 8,000 soldiers, horses and chariots is the largest of its kind ever constructed. Or so we think.

Terracotta Army Standing Archer

After all, Qin Shi Huang’s army remained buried for thousands of years before it was discovered by chance in 1974. Who’s to say others don’t exist as yet undiscovered elsewhere?

Even so, other armies would need more than just large numbers of men and horses to claim bragging rights. They’d also need to match this one’s stunning variety where each warrior is outfitted with his own unique armor, weapons and posture. They even have different heights, hair styles and facial expressions. 

Terracotta Army Warrior and Armored General

They’d also need to top the elaborate necropolis uncovered at Qin Shi Huang’s burial site, which includes offices, reception halls, stables, sacrificial pits, an armory, an entertainment arena and an imperial zoo; all intended to reconstruct the late emperor’s Imperial Palace for him in the afterlife.

Terracotta Army Kneeling Armored Archer

Sadly, not all of that could make the trip. Only about twenty figures made their way to San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum. To see the rest, or at least the two thousand figures they’ve unearthed so far, we’ll have to finally make a pilgrimage to where they live, in Xian, China.

Stay tuned.


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26 Comments on “Terracotta Travelers”

  1. sued51 June 10, 2013 at 8:42 am #

    These are something I always wished I could see as well. Very nice job with the photos!


  2. alibes June 10, 2013 at 9:41 am #

    definitely on the bucket list. They are just so awe inspiring.


    • Brian June 10, 2013 at 1:41 pm #

      Yeah, this little taste definitely just whetted the appetite.


  3. Mjollnir June 10, 2013 at 10:01 am #

    They have travelled about quite a bit. Obviously to see the whole collection it’s China you’ll have to visit (good excuse!), but I’ve been fortunate enough to see some of them twice in Edinburgh and Valencia. 😀


    • Brian June 10, 2013 at 1:42 pm #

      Never knew they got around so much. Very cool.


      • Mjollnir June 10, 2013 at 1:43 pm #



  4. lidipiri June 10, 2013 at 12:46 pm #

    Impressive even in small numbers or is it that your photos more than do them justice?


    • Brian June 10, 2013 at 1:43 pm #

      It helps to have impressive subjects. 😉


  5. kacjohnson June 10, 2013 at 3:17 pm #

    Reblogged this on K A C Johnson Books.


  6. tiny lessons blog June 10, 2013 at 3:46 pm #

    Very impressive, great photos! We saw a similar size exhibition in Hong Kong – it was awesome!


  7. alphathread June 10, 2013 at 5:15 pm #

    Wherever you see them, they are impressive. We were fortunate to see the buried army in Xian, China in 1987, which was then still relatively early in the excavation process. Friends who have visited Xian recently tell us that the extent of the excavation is probably twice as big as what we saw, which even in 1987 was about the size of a football field. Put Xian on your bucket list – the visit is worth the journey. Chris G


    • Brian June 11, 2013 at 6:09 pm #

      We definitely plan to go. Can’t wait.


  8. Charles Abraham June 10, 2013 at 10:05 pm #

    Happy to have seen these guys when they were in Discovery Times Square, New York City!


  9. The Sicilian Housewife June 11, 2013 at 10:58 am #

    You’re lucky to have seen them. And gorgeous photos, as always. wonder if they’ll ever visit Sicily, globetrotters as they are?


    • Brian June 11, 2013 at 6:10 pm #

      Send them an invite. Who knows?


  10. Huw Thomas June 11, 2013 at 4:04 pm #

    I think I’m right in saying that only a portion of the site has been excavated so far. I was also listening to a radio programme once about the conservation efforts and apparently they would once all have been painted in glorious technicolor!


    • Brian June 11, 2013 at 6:11 pm #

      It’s true. Once the air hits them the paint deteriorates rapidly. I do think that some are being left under ground to protect them. I wonder, though, if they’ll restore them to their original brilliance the way they restore old paintings.


  11. GwendolineWilson June 11, 2013 at 4:14 pm #

    Brian Thanks for the like on my blog The Reluctant Retiree. I love what you and Shannon are doing. If you ever do get to Xi’an to visit the excavations, may I suggest you plan to stay at least several days. There is much more to see eg drum tower, artists quarter, other excavations and so on, GG


    • Brian June 11, 2013 at 6:12 pm #

      Thanks for stopping by and for the great tips.


  12. hermitsdoor June 11, 2013 at 5:29 pm #

    We viewed them at the National Geographic headquarter’s museum in Washington, D.C. a year or so ago. Nice to learn they are in SF now.


  13. Touring NH June 14, 2013 at 8:03 am #

    Wow! I can’t begin to imagine all the time and work that went into an army of 8000. They must have thought the afterlife was a dangerous place.


  14. joyceahood June 16, 2013 at 11:30 am #

    I saw the terra cotta army when it travelled here to Toronto. THanks for reminding me how amazing the statues are.


  15. Suzanne June 18, 2013 at 9:39 am #

    I was fortunate enough to see them in Xian in 2009. I took a tour with a local guide, who showed us a nearby “mound” that is believed to be the site of his underground “palace,” which reportedly had rivers of mercury. They say the mercury level in this area is higher than normal levels, so some spectators believe this to be the site. I hope I live long enough to see the palace excavated, as I believe if there was an army of this magnitude, they must have been guarding something magnificent.



  1. A Tale of Two Gardens | Everywhere Once - July 26, 2013

    […] across Asia. In the meantime, Asian-themed and inspired places and exhibits (like the majestic Terracotta Warriors) are whetting our appetites for the sites we’ll see on the continent. Helping to further fuel […]


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