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Correction to This Article
This article on extended hours for the last 13 days of the "Terra Cotta Warriors: Guardians of China's First Emperor" exhibit at the National Geographic Museum incorrectly said that the warriors had been in Washington only once before, when three were on display in 2005 at the Kennedy Center. Four of the warriors were part of an exhibit in 1999 and 2000 at the National Gallery of Art.

National Geographic Museum extends hours for 'Terra Cotta Warriors' exhibit

"Terra Cotta Warriors: Guardians of China's First Emperor" is on display at the National Geographic Museum in Washington. The exhibition offers the public the rare chance to examine these lifelike figures up close, each sculpted by hand, no two faces alike. The 15 warriors that will be on exhibit at National Geographic are the largest group of them to tour the United States.

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By Jacqueline Trescott
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The National Geographic Museum has an unprecedented problem -- a bona fide blockbuster. Its amazing terra-cotta warriors are way too popular.

And so, to accommodate those who may have waited too long to see the ancient statues, the museum announced Tuesday it is extending hours for the last 13 days of "Terra Cotta Warriors: Guardians of China's First Emperor."

Starting Friday, the exhibition will open an hour earlier and stay open extra hours. From March 19 through 25, the exhibition hours will be 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Then, from March 26 to 31, the last day of the show, the museum will be open from 9 a.m. to midnight.

"On Friday we are putting 17,000 more tickets on sale," said Susan Norton, the museum director. "This has been a huge success -- and we have all survived."

The warriors, 15 life-size figures discovered among thousands in China in 1974, have been popular in all four U.S. venues in which they have been exhibited, with Washington being the last stop in a two-year tour. In anticipation of the crowds, the museum doubled its exhibition space and, for the first time in its long history, charged admission.

So far, Norton said, 293,874 tickets have been sold, a complete sellout. "We had projected 250,000 tickets and that would [have been] really great," she said. "This is the largest, most ambitious exhibit we have ever done."

During the show, the museum has counted upwards of 2,200 people a day, as opposed to the 550 visitors it normally receives.

The financial payoff? An estimated $2.7 million in gross revenue.

The warriors, created 2,000 years ago to protect the emperor Qin Shihuangdi in the afterlife, carry a mystique for scholars and museumgoers alike because of the story of their preservation and discovery. In the vast tomb, discovered by a group of farmers digging a well near Xi'an, were thousands of fragments of figures, among them soldiers, horses, acrobats and musicians. Scientists have declared the site one of the greatest archaeological finds of the 20th century.

Before the National Geographic exhibit, only three of the figures had been displayed in Washington, as part of the Festival of China at the Kennedy Center in 2005. In addition to the soldiers, the Geographic show features 100 objects and reproductions of horse-drawn coaches.

"We have had first-grade classes and Elderhostel groups," said Norton. "The name 'terra-cotta warriors' is pretty well recognized. It has been amazing to me how many visitors who have been to Xi'an say, 'I'm so [much] closer here.' With the children, they are fascinated because the statues are all full adult size and look like people." (At the excavation site in China people move along an elevated walkway and look down from a distance onto the armies of statues.)

Among the exhibition's visitors in Washington have been singer Olivia Newton-John, Washington Redskin Chris Cooley, the Washington Capitals' Matt Bradley and celebrity chef José Andrés, along with a number of ambassadors and politicians.

Once the National Geographic Museum wraps up its display, a special team from China will examine the statues and then de-install the fragile objects. "They are [the only ones] allowed to touch the objects and put them back in the crates," Norton said. A team from the museum will also do a condition report, and the packing up will take about 10 days.


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