Emperor Qinshihuang’s Mausoleum Site Museum is the tomb of Emperor Qinshihuang, the founder of the first unified empire in Chinese history during the 3rd century BCE. It is located at the northern foot of Lishan Mountain, 35 kilometres northeast of Xi’an, Shaanxi Province. The lay of the land from Lishanto Mount Hua is shaped like a dragon according to Chinese traditional geomancy, and so, the imperial tomb is at the eye of the dragon, which is why it is believed that the emperor had chosen well. It is the largest emperor’s tomb in Chinese history, and with this comes a unique standard and layout and a large number of exquisite funeral objects.

Museums of the World: Emperor Qinshihuang's Mausoleum Site Museum - Sheet1
Modern statue of Emperor QinShiHuang in front of the Museum of the terracotta army (Photo by Dennis Jarvis) _©https://smarthistory.org/tomb-first-emperor-qin/
Museums of the World: Emperor Qinshihuang's Mausoleum Site Museum - Sheet2
One of the pits, 230m/754 feet long, 62m/203 feet wide dug deep into the ground _©https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Terracotta_Army_Pit_1_front_rank.JPG

Ascending to the throne at 13 years of age, emperor Qinshihuang started planning for his rule in the afterlife almost immediately, and this is what led to the construction of the mausoleum. Before this, he had gone out to various provinces searching for something that could bring about immortality for him, but this was not successful hence the construction of the Qinshihuang mausoleum. Began in 246 BCE, it took 11 years to finish, and according to the historian Sima Qian, workers from every province of the empire toiled and worked until the death of the emperor to construct for him a subterranean city for the afterlife within a gigantic mound. It is speculated that many buried treasures and sacrificial objects had accompanied the emperor in his afterlife. This is evidenced by some pottery a group of peasants uncovered while digging for a well near the royal tomb in 1974. The first Emperor recreated entire stables and garrisons and enlivened them with terracotta figures performing everyday government tasks.

Museums of the World: Emperor Qinshihuang's Mausoleum Site Museum - Sheet3
Terracotta Soldiers in emperor Qinshihuang’s Mausoleum Site Museum (Photo by Aneta Ribarska) _©https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/441/gallery/

It is believed that Emperor Qinshihuang’s Mausoleum Site Museum is larger than the Great pyramid in Egypt. Seen from afar, it dominates the landscape as a hill overgrown with vegetation, and it is long known as the burial tomb of the first emperor. Currently, the tomb survives at the height of 51.3 meters within a rectangular double-walled enclosure oriented north-south. It is believed that the tomb consists of two cities, an interior city and an exterior city. The exterior is a low earth pyramid with a wide base, and over the years, the 100-meter-high hillock has weathered down to approximately 47 meters high, 515 meters long from south to north, and 485 meters wide from east to west.  Nearly two hundred pits accompany it and these contain thousands of life-sized terra-cotta soldiers, terra-cotta horses and bronze chariots, weapons, and many large Alhambresque buildings housing precious treasures which are said to be buried inside the tomb.

Museums of the World: Emperor Qinshihuang's Mausoleum Site Museum - Sheet4
Tumulus of Emperor Qinshihuang’s Mausoleum museum site   _©https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mausoleum_of_the_First_Qin_Emperor

The pits in Emperor Qinshihuang’s Mausoleum contain shattered fragments of terracotta warriors. These life-sized, life-like ceramic figures depict warriors with every detail of their dressing skillfully rendered and still bearing traces of their original paint at the time of their discovery. Since the early bronze age, the ruling elites in China had taken bronze ritual vessels, ceremonial musical instruments, and chariots with sacrificed horses into their tombs. By the Qin dynasty, these items had become established symbols of rulership.

Museums of the World: Emperor Qinshihuang's Mausoleum Site Museum - Sheet5
Pits containing soldiers and bronze horses in emperor Qinshihuang’s Mausoleum Site Museum  _©https://www.escape.com.au/destinations/asia/china/chinas-terracotta-warriors-12-top-things-to-know-before-you-go/news-story/0fc5c48ea0ca373532138f63a187637a

The three pits known as the Army Pits are by far said to be the most famous. Wooden chariots and terracotta horses accompanied the thousands of warriors found inside. Each of the ceramic figures bears individually modelled armour, hairstyles, and headdresses that make every figure stand out as unique. This allows distinction between the ranks of the soldiers and their different roles in an army. From archers to infantrymen to charioteers, these showed such a vast army, exemplifying the military dominance of a state that depended on being able to assemble the largest numbers of warriors. In one of the 50-meter-long pits, two bronze chariots are found, one bearing a canopy and one a closed compartment. Both chariots replicate every component of a wooden chariot, but these were in bronze and were made at a scale half the size of their real-life wooden counterparts. The canopy chariot is manned by a figure equipped with a crossbow and is positioned Infront of the second vehicle. The second chariot is driven by a kneeling figure, and it features a closed compartment with windows and a sloping roof. Cloud and lozenge patterns were painted on the bronze walls of the compartment and this lavish chariot matches the vehicles employed by the emperor during his tours of the empire.

War chariot in emperor Qinshihuang’s Mausoleum Site Museum  _©https://www.advantour.com/china/xian/qin-shi-huang-tomb.htm 

Another pit housed twelve terracotta figures dressed in long coats with broad sleeves and distinctive headgear which identifies them as officials. One large pit to the west of the inner wall contains hundreds of sacrificed horses which are assumed to have belonged to the imperial stables, while other smaller pits nearby contain individual animals, and these include exotic breeds of deer and birds, all in ceramic caskets. The remains of the animals were guarded by ceramic attendants and grooms, which turns the burial tomb into a recreation of the space of the stable, which can be traced back to ancient China.

Emperor Qinshihuang’s Mausoleum Site Museum had walls that were originally 10 meters thick and pierced by monumental gateways whose openings remain visible.   Because the first emperor envisioned a subterranean domain that would parallel his worldly existence after corporal death, replicas of palaces and scenic towers were brought to fill up the tomb. Mercury was used to fashion imitations of the hundred rivers, the yellow river, the Yangtze, and the seas. These were constructed in such a way that they seemed to flow. Above the tomb were representations of all the heavenly bodies and the features of the earth below. Outside the rectangular walls of the tomb precinct, a trench covers the length of one of the pits its floor covered in mud, indicating its function as a water basin.


Nachescu, A. (2021). The Tomb of the First Emperor – Smarthistory. [online] smarthistory.org. Available at: https://smarthistory.org/tomb-first-emperor-qin/.

Centre, U.W.H. (n.d.). Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor. [online] UNESCO World Heritage Centre. Available at: https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/441/.

Khan Academy (2018). Terracotta Warriors from the mausoleum of the first Qin emperor of China. [online] Khan Academy. Available at: https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/ap-art-history/south-east-se-asia/china-art/a/terracotta-warriors-from-the-mausoleum-of-the-first-qin-emperor-of-china.

www.advantour.com. (n.d.). Qin Shi Huang’s tomb – the world’s most amazing city-crypt. [online] Available at: https://www.advantour.com/china/xian/qin-shi-huang-tomb.htm [Accessed 16 Dec. 2022].

Travelchinaguide.com. (2016). Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor, Qin Shi Huang Tomb, Xi’an. [online] Available at: https://www.travelchinaguide.com/attraction/shaanxi/xian/terra_cotta_army/mausoleum_1.htm.

museu.ms. (n.d.). Museum of Qin Terra-cotta Warriors and Horses. [online] Available at: https://museu.ms/museum/details/16761/museum-of-qin-terracotta-warriors-and-horses.


Write A Comment