Farewell, Terracotta Warriors

Branded as the Silent Warriors, the terracotta soldiers that have mesmerised thousands of visitors at the Museum of Archaeology, in Valletta, are on their way to their "regimental barracks" in Xian, China.

Over the past four months - the exhibition closed on July 31 - about 72,000 people viewed this grandiose show of earthly power from the netherworld.

The 10 life-size warriors and two horses formed part of an army that Emperor Qin (259 BC-210 BC) could use in the afterlife.

According to archaeologists, the army, first unearthed in the 1920s near Xian, Shaanxi province, could include anything up to 7,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with horses and 110 cavalry horses.

Excavations at the Qin Shi Huang necropolis have been going on for over 30 years and, so far, only 1,000 soldiers and 21 chariots have seen the light of day.

Ying Zheng, who became emperor aged 13 and renamed himself Qin Shi Huang, managed to unite China, practically building a new empire.

Emirates Airlines are sponsoring the transport of the artefacts to Beijing and Shanghai as the items arrive in China in two consignments.

Being the first display of this calibre on this island, the showcase involved a host of logistical problems for Heritage Malta, apart from the financial backing the national cultural agency required.

"Such exhibitions were not possible in the past 20 years, mainly because of financial problems," Pierre Bonello, Heritage Malta's exhibitions executive, said.

The terracotta items - 80 in all - including farm animals and cooking utensils, among others, were packed by a team from Transpak, the overseas removals firm with the assistance of conservators from Heritage Malta and two Chinese archaeologists who came purposely to oversee the operation.

"From our side, conservators Ninette Sammut, Robert Cassar and James Licari assisted in this delicate operation.

"On their side, one of the Chinese archaeologists checked each piece to ensure that every item has not suffered any damage since it arrived here," Mr Bonello explained.

Four executives from Heritage Malta will accompany the collection to Xian and unpack it there because the agency is responsible for the items until that stage of the journey.

Emirates, the Dubai-based international airline, sponsored and supported this prestigious exhibition.

Emirates' manager for Malta and Cyprus, Paul Fleri Soler, said: "The impressive collection was a unique opportunity for the Maltese people to view such a rare find".

Emirates has been entrusted to carry this valuable cargo from Malta to China, via Larnaca and Dubai.

"Apart from being equipped to carry such a heavy load, as a leading airline we are also honoured to transport such prestigious world class and unique cargo," Mr Fleri Soler said.