By standing alongside Xian’s life-sized Terracotta Warriors, Sydney freelance travel writer Sally Hammond gets a sense that these rock-still soldiers once marched across China in force.


I swing round quickly. Did I hear the large gentleman behind me clear his throat? Another seems to be mid-shuffle but no they stand rock-still, staring at me stonily.

I feel confused and just a teeny bit spooked.

It’s impossible, I decide. These Terracotta Warriors had stood here, near Xian, for nearly 2000 years. In fact they were never alive in the first place, simply created and fired during the Qin dynasty, destined to then remain buried for twenty centuries.

Yet I feel there is a distinct ‘presence’ about them – especially as we are so close to them. My photographer-husband, Gordon, and I have been given special permission to come into the great pit, where the warriors stand so that we can get up-close to see and photograph them.

Helen Wong’s Tours can arrange such a privilege and we feel very lucky to be within touching range of these amazing warriors. At the same time, we move very, very carefully, as who would want to be responsible for toppling one of these painstakingly reassembled and priceless artefacts?

Time and human interference along the centuries has reduced some of them to thousand-piece jig saws so, each night when the crowds have left, teams of archaeologists resume the task of matching fragments of terracotta to create even more entire bodies.

Seven hundred craftsmen were employed to make these figures. It is said they worked in twos, facing each other, fashioning the features of each warrior to resemble their partner’s face.

Perhaps it’s no surprise then, that these figures have such presence. No wonder they seem to be about to stretch and sneeze and come alive!