Nine life-size terracotta warriors have been warmly welcomed by both Maltese and tourists who are taking the opportunity to see some of China's treasures in Valletta.

A number of people yesterday walked into the Archaeological Museum on Republic Street to travel 2,200 years back in time and admire one of the most sensational archaeological finds of all time.

The silent warriors and two horses are just a few from the thousands that make up the terracotta army built by Chinese emperor Qin Shi Huang to protect his tomb near Xi'an.

The warriors were found in three separate underground pits after they were discovered by farmers who were digging a well in 1974. Although only about 1,000 soldiers and the remnants of 21 chariots have been excavated so far, it is estimated that the pits include around 7,000 soldiers, from infantry to generals. Nearly two million people visit the site every year.

Archaeologists have not yet got into the emperor's tomb, but they believe there might be a model of Qin buried with him.

The exhibition of the priceless works of art - which took 700,000 men 38 years to complete - was inaugurated by Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi yesterday evening.

Dr Gonzi lauded the emperor for uniting a country split into six warring states, completing the first version of the Great Wall, building an extensive network of roads and canals across China, standardising language and currency and abolishing feudalism.

"Here was a phenomenal leader who formed a country that has remained with its borders relatively intact for more than 2,000 years. He has built a country that is proud of its heritage and rich in potential. He was called the First Emperor of Qin (from which the word China is derived) for his ability to unite so vast a land with all its diversity and demands, starting a new course in China's history which it still enjoys and benefits from today."

He pointed out that while China was being unified, Malta was in the midst of the Punic Wars and on the way to becoming part of the Roman Empire.

"This started an important period in Malta's history. It rooted the country to the European continent and initiated a story that led to the gift of our religion and culture." He said the Maltese still subscribe to that culture, adding that as Malta integrates better within the European Union, it continues to strengthen bonds with other countries, including China.

Dr Gonzi said Malta has always maintained a cross-party consensus about the importance of a quality relationship with China.

The exhibition, organised by Heritage Malta and the Shaanxi Provincial Cultural Relics Bureau, is open every day between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. up to July 31.

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