|Terracotta warrior stands guard over the museum.|
Today, the clay army in that tomb is known as the Terracotta Warriors and fortunately, an exhibit of them is currently on loan to a museum in New York City. Steve and I decided to visit that venue, the Discovery Times Square Museum, to see this unparalleled expression of funerary art.
|Mr. Ed's ancestor warily watches passing tourists.|
As the story goes, the emperor was afraid of death and constantly trying magic elixirs to achieve immortality. Eventually, around 210 BCE, he died anyway at the age of 49, most likely from the mercury contained in some of those potions. But before he passed on to legend, he ordered some 16,000 workers (700,000 according to ancient historian Sim Qian, perhaps exaggerating a tad) to create his necropolis where he was buried.
Drums meant charge, and bells, like
the one above, sounded retreat.
Unfortunately, the emperor and his entourage were two months away from the capital when he expired, so only some subtle ingenuity would cover up that fact in the sweltering heat of summer. Most of the imperial entourage was not told of the emperor's death. Only a younger son, a trusted eunuch, Li Si and five or six other carefully chosen confidants knew.
|I swear this warrior's eyes kept following me.|
|Smaller warriors from a later emperor.|
|Barbie-sized warriors from a later dynasty.|
According to historian Sim Qian, who lived from 145–90 BCE, the second emperor of China decided that after his father died, it was time to do some housecleaning:
“The Second Emperor said: ‘It is inappropriate for the wives of the late emperor who have no sons to be free,’ ordered that they be put to death, and many died. After the burial, it was suggested that it would be a serious breach if the craftsmen who constructed the tomb and knew of its secrets were to divulge those secrets. Therefore after the funeral ceremonies had completed, the inner passages and doorways were blocked, and the exit sealed, immediately trapping the workers and craftsmen inside. None could escape.” Basically, it may have been good to BE the emperor, but not necessarily to marry or work for him.
|Lanterns light the way at the Chelsea Market.|
The tomb was planted over with vegetation, so it would resemble a nonassuming hill. As a result, it lay undiscovered for more than two millennia until a local farmer, digging a well, found it in 1974.
After wending through this fascinating exhibit, Steve and I capped off the day by having a late lunch at The Green Table at the Chelsea Market—great organic, locally grown food—and then we sat in a park and watched a man create really big bubbles.
|Nothing says New York like bubbles in the park.|
Such was our foray into the city. First we spent the better part of the morning peering more than two thousand years into the past. Then we whiled away an hour watching mammoth bubbles float up into the air, pop and vanish. All in all, a day layered with the essence and absurdity of transience.