Terra Cotta Warriors at The Children's Museum of Indianapolis

Eight Terra Cotta Warriors and 118 other relics are in display at The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis through Nov. 2, 2014. Photo credit: Cindy Richards/TravelingMom with Teens

Indianapolis, the Indiana state capital that used to be known for its sleepy nature, is wide awake these days. The city, which made the New York Times list of places to visit in 2014, has two new reasons to visit: an exhibit of China’s terra cotta warriors and orangutans who are now making their home at the Indianapolis Zoo.

It’s all part of the stunning renaissance of this Midwestern city, once known by the not-so-charming nickname, “Nap Town.” Today, the city’s downtown centerpiece is the idyllic White River State Park, home to summer concerts, a canal, three museums, an IMAX theater, the charming Indianapolis Zoo and a minor league baseball stadium.

Terra Cotta Warriors at The Children's Museum of Indianapolis

Photo credit: Cindy Richards/TravelingMom with Teens

The Terra Cotta Warriors will be visiting the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis through Nov. 2, 2014. It’s the second installment of the museum’s “Take Me There” series (the first was a virtual trip to Egypt and King Tut). Four years in the making, this exhibit has two main components: the warriors themselves and a hands-on section that lets kids explore Chinese culture.

The 2,200+-year-old warrior statues were created to guard the tomb of China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huangdi. It is believed that the emperor ordered 8,000 of the life-sized clay soldiers, each with a unique face and hands, to be created and stationed to protect him in the afterlife. Only about 2,000 have been unearthed to date. The soldiers were buried in a remote area of China for 2,000 years before being discovered in 1974 by farmers digging a well in search of water.

Children’s Museum of Indianapolis

The exhibit features eight of the ancient statues and 118 other relics. Archeologists believe the clay statues were originally painted in vibrant colors. But as they were exposed to air for the first time in two millennia, the paint flaked off. An educational component of the exhibit helps visitors explore the science behind the paint and learn about new technology that will be used to preserve the paint on Terra Cotta Warrior statues unearthed in the future.

When I visited, the Terra Cotta Warriors exhibit was a bigger draw for adults than kids—although there are interactive features, including a life-sized terra cotta warrior model that can be taken apart and rebuilt, costumes and replicas for photo ops, and the opportunity to mold and make your own mini terra cotta soldiers.

Terra Cotta Warriors at The Children's Museum of Indianapolis

Photo credit: Cindy Richards/TravelingMom with Teens

The kids were having more fun across the hall in the “Take Me There: China” section, which will remain open at the museum fter the warriors are packed up and sent home to China. That section opens with a ride onboard “Take Me There Airways.” After “landing” in China, kids can explore Chinese culture through the arts, music, language, transportation, housing, food, tea, calligraphy, ancient medicine, and cuddly giant pandas.

Take Me There: China is included in the regular museum admission but the Terra Cotta Warriors exhibit requires an additional ticket. Parking at the museum is free, one of many free things to do in Indianapolis.