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XIAN, Showcase of Imperial History

In 1974, in the course of digging a well, some peasants made an astonishing discovery: the buried terra-cotta warriors of Qin Shi Huangdi (259-210 B.C.), the first emperor who unified China's divided territories into one nation and standardized its written language.

The actual burial mound has not been excavated because its treasures are considered too delicate.

However, in a nearby hangarlike building, visitors can see the extraordinary terracotta army of 8,000 fully armed warriors who guarded the imperial tomb.

Some kneel, while others stand, and each sculpture has a distinct facial expression, with arms and armor suitable to his rank. Actually life-size, they are an extraordinary sight and the most important archeological find in the country.

Xian (pronounced SHE-ON) was the Chinese capital from the 11th century B.C. to the 10th century A.D. It is surrounded by tombs of emperors and generals, pagodas, monasteries and shrines.

Its Islamic mosque was built in the eighth century. Other points of interest are impressive museums, a zoo with a giant panda, remnants of a 600-year-old Ming dynasty City Wall, and Bei Lin, a museum with a huge collection of stone carvings with ancient calligraphy. Seven miles east of the city are the remains of the neolithic Banpo Village, now a museum.

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