Marco Polo on the Silk Road

The Silk Road is a name given to ancient trade routes which run from China to the west. These routes were navigated by travelers, adventurers, pilgrims and traders. Among the most famous Silk Route travelers is Marco Polo (1254-1324), the iconic Italian merchant traveler. He came from Venice, Italy and set out for Asia with his father and uncle in 1271. Their journey lasted 24 years and included the Silk Road. His travelers were recorded in the Book of the Marvels of the World also known as The Travels of Marco Polo written in c.1300. Through this remarkable book the imaginations of people in the west were ignited, people became interested in travel to the Far East. Although Marco Polo was not the first European to reach China he was the first to leave a record of his travels.

The Story of Marco Polo, Kublai Khan and the Silk Road

In the book retelling Marco Polo’s travels we read of his father and uncle who were invited to meet Kublai Khan (1215-1294), Mongol leader and founder of the Yuan Dynasty. This is said to have been Kublai Khan’s first encounter with Europeans. The two Italian merchants travelers to Dadu (present day Beijing, China) to meet the Asian leader. Khan met the travelers and enquired about life in the west, politics, trade, Christianity, the Pope and the western legal system. He then gave them a letter to deliver to the Pope. One of the requests in the letter was for oil from the holy lamp in Jerusalem. The Polo brothers had to put off their journey to Jerusalem as there was a delay between the death of one Pope and the appointment of another. In this interlude they returned to Venice where Marco Polo, at that time seventeen years old, joined them on their quest to bring the oil to Kublai Khan in 1271.

The three travelers sailed from Venice to Acre and on to Jerusalem where they collected the oil. From there by camel to the Persian port of Hormuz (present day Qal’eh-ye Hormoz in Iran). Here they failed to find a seaworthy ship to take them to China and so they took the Silk Road. Marco Polo, his father Niccolo Polo and uncle Maffeo followed the Silk Road to Kublai Khan’s summer palace in Shangdu near present day Zhangjakou. Along the way they traveled both independently and as part of a larger caravan of travelers making their way along the Silk Road.

One of Marco Polo’s Silk Road adventures included being attacked by bandits who snuck up on the caravan of travelers under the cover of a sand storm. Many of the travelers in the caravan were murdered or taken as slaves but the Polos managed to escape to a nearby village. Marco Polo and his traveling companions eventually reached Kublai Khan’s palace after three years of travel. Marco Polo spent time serving in Khan’s court before returning home to Venice. His writings about the Silk Road, his observations about the culture, landscape and wildlife have been an invaluable source for future explorers, historians, anthropologists and travelers along the Silk Road.

Army of Terracotta Warriors and Horses

The Museum of Qin Terracotta Warriors and Horses is the main attraction tour in the city of Xian, it is a group of more than 8,000 life-size soldiers, 670 horses and chariots made out of terracotta. The Terracotta Army are a UNESCO site and were first discovered by farmers in 1974, today more than 40,000 visitors come to see them each day. But where did they come from and what is their significance?

Emperor Qin Shi Huang united China and established the Qin Dynasty, marking the beginning of 2000 of feudal rule. The soldiers were created to be buried with him and guard him in his afterlife. The construction started approximately in 246BC and more than 7,000 artisans and workmen were employed to produce them. When construction of the emperor’s mausoleum began the emperor was only 13 but by the time he died almost an entire kingdom had been recreated to be buried with him. His army was placed in vaults about 1.5km from the Emperor’s tomb or mausoleum. It is believed that the underground palace remained intact for all these years thanks to traps and schemes set up to deter grave-robbers.

The soldiers are not all identical, each has unique facial expressions, hair styles, posture and their height ranges from 183 to 195cm. there are standing infantry soldiers, kneeling archers, cavalry and officers. The figures were originally painted but the paint has worn off almost completely revealing the terracotta. Other figures included in the group are officials, strongmen, musicians, acrobats, chariots and farm animals like goats and pigs. Also on display in the museum are two bronze chariots which were discovered nearby, they each have 4 horses, complete with bridles and saddles.

The Terracotta Army is located about 30km from Xian, they are within 3 pits each 4-8 meters deep; Pit 1 is the largest and most impressive while Pits 2 and 3 are often thought less interesting and could be left off of a tourist itinerary. Before entering the site visitors get to see a 360° movie in English about the background of the Terracotta Army, the movie lasts 15 minutes and is included in your entrance ticket. Also included in the ticket is a visit to the nearby Qin Shihuang Mausoleum which is not yet excavated. Archeologists predict that even greater wonders remain to be discovered in the mausoleum, including rivers of quicksilver, treasures and a palace.

One Day Tour to Xian

China is a major travel destination which most Westerners only manage to visit once or twice in a lifetime, so naturally you want to see as much as possible with the time you have there. If you’re visiting Beijing it doesn’t mean you have to miss out on seeing one of China’s most important historic sites – Xian and the Terra-cotta Warriors. Even if you are short on time you can still get away from Beijing for the day and see the major sites of Xian, but only if you are part of an organized tour. If you try to make a one day trip to Xian independently you will be faced with the logistics of transport which could take up too much of your limited time. With an organized one day tour to Xian you can be sure to see Xian and be back by the end of the day. An organized one day tour to Xian will also insure that you fit in all the amazing sites of Xian and don’t return to Beijing disappointed.

The one day tour to Xian begins at your Beijing hotel where you will be picked up by the guide and transferred to the airport to catch your flight to Xian. With an organized one day tour to Xian the flight tickets, transport to and from your Beijing hotel and the tours in Xian are all included in the price, organized and booked for you.

After a short 2 hour flight your guide will get you swiftly through Xian airport security and you will be met by a local Xian guide and driver. Without further ado you’ll be driven to the Terra-cotta Warriors and Horses. The tour guides are all well informed about the sites and speak good English. Just think, no negotiating with taxi drivers or struggling to make yourself understood as you try to buy tickets to the exhibit. Your tickets to the sites are also included in your one day tour to Xian. You can learn about the UNESCO World Heritage Xian Terra-cotta Warriors, their history which dates back to 221-206BC and their discovery in 1975 by watching a short film at the Cinemania.

After your visit to the Terra-cotta Warriors you will be taken to a local restaurant for lunch (which is also included in the tour price). This particular tour takes you to a typical local restaurant and avoids the usual tourist restaurants which are over run with tourists. Enjoy a delicious meal at the Ai Qin Hai restaurant before being taken to see the Big Wild Goose Pagoda. The guide stays with you until you are safely checked in on your return flight to Beijing and on arrival in the capital a driver will be waiting to take you back to your hotel.

Don’t miss out on seeing the 8th wonder of the world, even if you’re based in Beijing a one day tour to Xian is possible and an unforgettable experience.