For millennia, the story of the great tomb of Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China, was nothing more than myth. It wasn’t until 1974 when the digging of a well happened to unearth a buried terra-cotta warrior that Qin’s tomb became solid fact. The thousands of life-sized figures are now on display where they were found in a field in Xi'an.
It is extremely crowded the day I visit. The other tourists swell around me as I enter the first pit—the largest of three archaeological digs on site. The pit appears to be covered in a giant airplane hangar, and the surging crowd crawls to a stop right at its entrance.
Ahead of me are rows and rows of life-size terra-cotta men in marching formation. Sprinkled throughout the sprawling mass of men are terra-cotta horses and various weapons. Not all figures have been reassembled after their 2000 years underground, and I can see, farther back, broken clay pieces.
It really is staggering to see the figures in person. It is said that no two faces are the same, and as I focus my lens on the statues, my camera’s face-detection system is lighting up. Little blue boxes appear over every terra-cotta head on my camera screen.
The scope is difficult to comprehend. As I walk to the back of the building, I watch the eyes of the statues. Some have heads tilted to stare right back at me.
The scale of the site rapidly overwhelms me, and I don’t feel very connected to the place. It is certainly worth visiting, but ultimately mind-boggling.