Sunday, 13 November 2011

The less-famous tomb: Xi'an's hidden gem

After our mixed visit to the Terracotta army, we were desperate for a little calm and quiet. Although Xi'an is mainly known for that one big sight, smaller tombs are dotted around the surrounding area, none nicer than the very impressive tomb of Emperor Jingdi. Not served by public transport, we hired a driver for the day and set off for the short (less than one hour) journey to the site.

The tomb is part of on-going excavations, and visitors can see a mound still undergoing work, along with explanations of the site's importance. But it is the presentation of the finalised excavations areas that are the real draw, and make this a day trip not to be missed.

Entering the new museum, we were greeted with soft lighting, detailed English-language explanations of the history of the site, and important artefacts. One of the better museums I've been to, it didn't overwhelm with too much going on at once, but was spacious and laid out to lead visitors fluidly through. The best bit, however, is the open excavation laid out in the centre of the museum, covered with glass so you can actually walk over the pits and see the artefacts left in situ. The tomb was found to contain thousands of small doll-like human and animal figurines, making it similar to the Terracotta army in having a full set-up for the afterlife. The figurines were originally clothed, although very little of the textiles remain. Some have been removed to be stored or presented in the museum's displays, but many have been left in the pits, identical faces staring up at us through the glass and blueish lighting casting shadows around the pits.

After we'd finished in the museum area, we walked around the vast site, to the tomb mound of the Empress and then to a second museum with a more detailed explanation of the dynasties and the findings from the tombs.

And what made the trip all the better? We were pretty much the only people there. In the carpark we spotted two other cars, but the site is big enough that you don't need to bump into smaller numbers of visitors at all and we spent a lovely few hours soaking up the calm after the crazy previous day.

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