Erdene Zuu monastery, Kharakorum, Karakorum, Harhorin, Khara-khorin, Kharakhorum, Khara Khorum, Kharakhorum, Mongolia’s ancient capital, Mongolian monasteries
THE REGIONS OF MONGOLIA
Mongolia’s ancient capital, Kharakhorum, Chinggis Khaan’s fabled city, was founded in 1220 in the Orkhon valley, at the crossroads of the Silk Road. It was from there that the Mongol Empire
governed, until Khubilai Khaan moved it to Beijing. The symbolic ruins of Kharakhorum
(kharkhorin), monumental walls (400 m of length) with 108 stupas, surround the first Buddhist monastery in
Mongolia Erdene Zuu Monastery, built in 1586. In 1792, it housed 62 temples and 10,000 lamas; since 1990, it has become an active monastery again. Turtles carved from the stone marked the boundaries
of the complex. Nearby, Turkish monuments and rock inscriptions erected in 8-9th centuries in memory of outstanding fighters for independence.
In 1220 Genghis Khan decided to build the capital city of his vast Mongolian empire at Karakorum. Building was completed by his son, Ogedai Khan, after Genghis' death, but Karakorum served as the
capital for only 40 years before Kublai Khan moved it to what is now Beijing. Following the move, and the subsequent collapse of the Mongolian empire, Karakorum was abandoned and then later destroyed
by hordes of Manchurian soldiers. Whatever was left was used to help build the
Erdene Zuu monastery in the 16th century, which itself was badly destroyed during the Stalinist purges. The modern
and dreary town of Kharkhorin was built on the same spot.
THE INTERESTING INFORMATION. THE ANCIENT CAPITAL
Hardly a single stone remains of ancient Karakorum, the Mongol capital, but an intriguing picture can be painted using contemporary accounts of visiting missionaries ambassadors and
The city was situated at the crossroads of trade routes and was surrounded by walls with four gates; each had its own market, selling grain in the east, goats in the west, oxen and
wagons in the south and horses in the north.
The surrounding town of gers was an impressive sight, though the missionary William of Rubruck (1215-1295) dismissed the city as no bigger than the suburb of Saint Denis in Paris.
Giovanni de Piano Carpine (1180-1252), an envoy sent to the Mongols in 1245 by Pope Innocent IV, described the city vaguely as 'at the distance of a year's walk' from Rome. Marco Polo gave a brief
description of the city, though he never made it there.
The Mongol khaans were famed for their religious tolerance and split their time equally between all the religions; hence twelve different religions co-existed within the town.
Mosques, Buddhist monasteries and Nestorian Christian churches competed for the Mongol's souls. Even powerful figures such as Ogedei's wife and Khublai's mother were Nestorian Christians.
The centrepiece of the city was the Tumen Amgalan, or Palace of Worldly Peace, in the south-west corner of the city. This 2500 sq meter complex, built in 1235, was the palace of
Ogedei Khaan. The two-storey palace had a vast reception hall for receiving ambassadors, and its 64 pillars resembled the nave of a church. The walls were painted, the green-tiled floor had underfloor
heating, and the Chinese-style roof was covered in green and red tiles. Whenever he was at court, the khaan sat on a panther skin atop a great throne, to which stairs ascended from one side and
descended from the other. You can see a model of the palace in the Museum of Mongolian History in
The most memorable highlight of the city was a fountain designed in 1253 by the French jeweller and sculptor Guillaume Bouchier (or Bouchee) of Paris, who had been captured by the
Mongols in Hungary and brought back to embellish Karakorum. The fountain was in the shape of a huge silver tree, which simultaneously dispensed mare's milk from silver lion's heads, and wine, rice
wine, bal (mead) and airag from four golden spouts shaped like snake heads. On top of the tree was an angel. On order a servant blew a pipe like a bugle that extended from the angel's mouth,
giving the order for other servants to pump drinks out of the tree.
Mongolian noblemen lived in the north of town, near the Orkhon Col. Rubruck disparagingly describes various pleasure domes and epic feasts (during one of which the Mongol guests guzzled 105
cartloads of alcohol). There were also quarters of craftsmen and traders, populated by a great mix of people brought back to Karakorum from all over Asia. So cosmopolitan was the city that both
foreign and Mongol coins were legal tender.
PAGES OF THE PICTURE ALBUM. KHARAKHORUM
Other photos you can see on pages of our photo album. Kharakhorum (Karakorum)