2,000-year wait is over for Terracotta Army fans

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The Independent Online

The queue appeared to have historic proportions. The visitors who had gathered on the steps of the British Museum yesterday had come from far and wide to be among the first to glimpse the ancient treasures from the tomb of China's first emperor.

These were the stalwart Terracotta Army fans, including many who had bagged a ticket for "The First Emperor: China's Terracotta Army", when they went on sale in February. Others had arrived empty-handed, in hope to buy one of the extra 500 tickets being sold every day.

As the largest collection of artefacts ever to have been loaned abroad by a Chinese museum, the show had sparked great excitement months before its opening, and such were the crowds yesterday that the museum limited viewing to a maximum of 400 people an hour.

Roger Stone, 71, who had travelled from Devon, had been excited about the grand opening since he bought a ticket six months ago and he was not disappointed by the 2,000-year-old treasures on display."It is a one-off chance to see these marvellous figures as I'll probably never get to China," he said. "To see them up close was really impressive. It was well worth coming and after seeing it I'm not surprised so many tickets have been sold."

James Edwards, 70, had bought 45 tickets at a cost of nearly £500 in April, to distribute them to members of his gardening club. I thought it was great and everyone I've spoken to said the same. It really was a wonderful experience," he said.

Colin Cotte had come in hope that he may be among the lucky 500 to arrive early enough to buy a daily ticket – and his long morning wait paid off. "History is something that really interests me and it was fascinating to learn about the history of the tomb," he said. "I was really impressed by the exhibition and I'll definitely be telling my friends about it.

With more than 154,000 tickets booked before the exhibition even opened, and more being bought every day, it looks set to become one of the most successful the museum has ever staged. Jane Portal, the show's curator, said the amount of interest was "fantastic but not surprising".

The Prime Minister Gordon Brown was one of the first to marvel over the exhibition's treasures alongside guests including the artist Grayson Perry, and the actor Antony Sher. Mr Brown described the show's opening as a "great day for Britain" and "a gift across continents."

Film crews from all over the world have reported on the loan of the 20 terracotta warriors as well as 100 artefacts, which will be exhibited in America after the London show comes to an end in April next year.

The Terracotta Army, most of which had never previously left China, had lain in an underground tomb for centuries before its discovery by farmers in 1974. The vast army of 7,000 clay, life-size warriors, complete with horses, wooden chariots and weapons, were built to protect the First Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi in the afterlife. He is credited for creating what the British Museum called the "oldest surviving political entity in the world".