I have been very fortunate to have had the opportunity to visit and explore one-of-a-kind vistas – places that are so extraordinary, created either naturally or through human genius – that I feel they need special recognition, so I am going to start a new thread in this blog called: MY FAVORITE WONDERS (SO FAR). In PART 1: THE GREAT WALL AND THE TERRA COTTA WARRIORS OF CHINA, I will take you through monumental man-made creations that left me speechless (frankly an EXTREMELY rare thing).
THE GREAT WALL OF CHINA – The Great Wall once stretched over 4,000 miles across China’s barren northern terrain from the Bohai Sea to the Gobi Desert. It didn’t start as one project, but rather was a series of disparate earthen ramparts constructed by individual states. The fusion and fortification of the wall actually occurred during the unification of China under the reign of Qin Shi Huangdi (221-210 BC). Qin Shi mustered over one million people, or nearly 1/5 of China’s population at the time to fortify the wall, which was made of mortar layered between kiln-fired bricks which consisted of lime and glutinous (sticky) rice with additional layers of stones, rocks and earth and rubble. However, despite having impressive battlements, the wall proved ineffective as the Mongols (Genghis Khan) breached it during the 13th Century followed by an invasion of the Northeastern Manchus in the 17th century. The Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) was most prolific in reconstruction. Sadly, there are not many sections of the Great Wall today secure enough to walk across, which explained why the section we had access to was ridiculously crowded. Add to that the fact that obviously the wall is exposed to the elements, so we not only had to worry about being accidentally pushed off or slip on the well-worn stones, but also had to be wary of sudden gusts of wind. Still, there was not one second of thought that perhaps it was too dangerous – we were determined to be those who could honestly state: “I walked the Great Wall of China.” And it was worth it.
Since the builders of the Great Wall took advantage of the natural terrain for defensive purposes, following the highest points and clinging to ridges, it offers walkers unparalleled views. Even before we got to the entrance of the walkable section in the Jin Du Village at Badaling, we were treated to breathtaking views of the mountains, as the morning mists slowly rose:
The first photo is now a framed 25″ by 30″ picture that I see upon awaking every morning. Not a bad way to start the day.
The trip across the section of Great Wall as I mentioned was heart pounding – I will let you imagine yourself on the ramparts as you gaze at my pics:
TERRA-COTTA WARRIORS – Back in 1974 a couple of peasants were digging a well and stumbled upon what they first thought was an old kiln – but instead turned out to be an army of over 7000 life-size soldiers, archers, and horses – all made of terra-cotta (local clay baked in a kiln). Remember Qin Shi, the ruler who not only united the various states of China but also began construction of the Great Wall? He was somewhat of a despot. Thinking that perhaps his enemies would follow him into the afterlife to wreak revenge, Qin Shi set upon building an enormous army to protect himself from this potentiality. All individually crafted, each man has unique features, including elaborate hair styles and all are arranged in typical army factions. At the time we visited, excavations had revealed three pits. Pit 1, the largest contained the infantry about 2000 in number. It housed the soldiers in a combined battle formation of charioteers and infantrymen, with three rows of the vanguard. The soldiers on the outer edge face north, south, east and west as the flanks to guard the sides and rear of the army. Pit 2 contains the Calvary and Pit 3 (at the time excavations had not begun on this pit) housed the command center with high-ranking officers. Officials at the site told us they were purposely taking the slow road in excavation as they wanted every successive generation of Chinese to experience the thrill of discovery – a rather noble sentiment. While all of the figures today are the color of just the clay, originally they had been painted in vivid colors, like this replica:
They also were equipped with bronze weapons – swords, spears, bows and arrows. unfortunately, most of those have deteriorated through time and exposure to air. Still, the site of this army, seemingly ready to go on the attack, was spectacular:
Even more astonishing, these figures are only a PART of a vast necropolis that was built upon the orders by Qin Shi. The last photo of a bronze chariot was unearthed nearby, where, about a mile west of the pits, there is a large hill which is believed to be the burial mound of the Emperor, Wait, it gets even more fantastical:
Historical sources portray a plan of this afterlife empire – a floor cut by rivers of mercury beneath a ceiling studded with pearls to represent the night sky. The ancient Chinese believed that mercury helped bestow immortality – in fact, the Emperor use to take mercury pills in order to lengthen his life, but – guess what? He died a fairly early death at the age of 39. Wonder why. The tomb also is said to contain 48 tombs for his concubines who were said to have been buried alive with the Emperor, a fate also received by the builders to prevent the location of his necropolis from being discovered. This area has not been excavated – there are major concerns that exposure of the purported toxic mercury rivers could do major damage to the local environment. Here is one rendering of what might await below:
We were able, however to meet one of the actual peasants who originally made the discovery of the terra-cotta warrior pits in 1974 – his name is Yang Zhifa. Alive, but retired today, at the time of our visit Yang Zhifa worked in the on site museum, where he dutifully signed copies of books about the terra-cotta warrior pits – a true celebrity in his own right:
Next in this series, a visit to another iconic man-made wonder. Until then,