The Info List - Karakorum

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(Khalkha Mongolian: Хархорум Kharkhorum) was the capital of the Mongol Empire
Mongol Empire
between 1235 and 1260, and of the Northern Yuan in the 14–15th centuries. Its ruins lie in the northwestern corner of the Övörkhangai Province
Övörkhangai Province
of Mongolia, near today's town of Kharkhorin, and adjacent to the Erdene Zuu monastery. They are part of the upper part of the World Heritage Site
World Heritage Site
Orkhon Valley Cultural Landscape.


1 History

1.1 Foundation 1.2 Prosperity

1.2.1 William of Rubruck

1.3 Later times 1.4 Decline

2 Excavations 3 Modern times 4 See also 5 Notes 6 References 7 Further reading 8 External links

History[edit] Foundation[edit] The Orkhon valley was a centre of the Xiongnu, Göktürk and Uyghur empires. To the Göktürks, the nearby Khangai Mountains
Khangai Mountains
had been the location of the Ötüken, and the Uighur capital Karabalgasun
was located close to where later Karakorum
would be erected (downstream the Orkhon River 27 km north–west from Karakorum). This area is probably also one of the oldest farming areas in Mongolia.[1] In 1218–19, Genghis Khan
Genghis Khan
rallied his troops for the campaign against the Khwarezm Empire
Khwarezm Empire
in a place called Karakorum,[2] but the actual foundation of a city is usually said to have occurred only in 1220. Until 1235, Karakorum
seems to have been little more than a yurt town; only then, after the defeat of the Jin empire, did Genghis' successor Ögedei erect walls around the place and build a fixed palace.[3] Ögedei Khan
Ögedei Khan
gave the decree to build the Tumen Amgalan Ord (Palace of Myriad Peace, Wan'an'gong in Chinese) in 1235 the year after he defeated the Jin Dynasty. It was finished in one year. In the Yuanshi (元史) it is written in the section for Taizong (太宗) Ögedei Khan: "In the seventh year (1236), in the year of the blue sheep the Wanangong (萬安宫) was established in Helin (和林, Karakorum)." One of Genghis Khan's nine ministers the Khitan Yelü Chucai (1190–1244) said the following poem during the ridge raising ceremony of the Tumen Amgalan Ord: "Installed ridge well fit and stone foundation, The parallel placed majestic palace has been raised, When the bells and drums of the Lord and officials sound pleasantly, The setting sun calls the horses of war to itself from the mountain peaks." The Mongolian version of the poem is as follows: "Tsogtslon tavih nuruu chuluun tulguur, Zeregtsen zogsoh surleg asriig bosgovoi, Ezen tushmediin honh hengereg ayataihan hanginan duursahad, Echih naran uuliin tolgoigoos dainii agtadiig ugtnam.[4][5] The name Karakorum
or "Kharkhorin" literally translates to 'black-twenty'. But scientists argue that the 'khorin' might have been a diversion of the word 'khurem', which means "castle" in Mongolian. Other translations vary.[6] Prosperity[edit] Under Ögedei and his successors, Karakorum
became a major site for world politics. Möngke Khan
Möngke Khan
had the palace enlarged, and the great stupa temple completed.[3] They had the Parisian goldsmith, Guillaume Bouchier,[7][8] design the famous Silver Tree of Karakorum
for the city centre.[9] A large tree sculpted of silver and other precious metals rose up from the middle of the courtyard and loomed over the palace, with the branches of the tree extended into the building. Silver fruit hung from the limbs and it had four golden serpents braided around the trunk, while within the top of the tree was placed a trumpet angel, all as automata performing for the emperor's pleasure. When the khan wanted to summon the drinks for his guests, the mechanical angel raised the trumpet to his lips and sounded the horn, whereupon the mouths of the serpents began to gush out a fountain of alcoholic beverages into the large silver basin arranged at the base of the tree.[10] William of Rubruck[edit] William of Rubruck, a Flemish Franciscan
missionary and papal envoy to the Mongols
reached Karakorum
in 1254. He has left one of the most detailed, though not always flattering, accounts of the city. He compared it rather unfavourably to the village of Saint-Denis near Paris, and was of the opinion that the royal abbey there was ten times as important as the Khan's palace. On the other hand, he also described the town as a very cosmopolitan and religiously tolerant place, and the silver tree he described as part of Möngke Khan's palace as having become the symbol of Karakorum.[11] He described the walled city as having four gates facing the four directions, two quarters of fixed houses, one for the "Saracenes" and one for the "Cathai", twelve pagan temples, two mosques, as well as a Nestorian church.[3] Later times[edit] See also: Mongolia
under Yuan rule When Kublai Khan
Kublai Khan
claimed the throne of the Mongol Empire
Mongol Empire
in 1260—as did his younger brother, Ariq Böke—he relocated his capital to Shangdu, and later to Khanbaliq
(Dadu, today's Beijing). Karakorum
was reduced to the administrative centre of a provincial backwater of the Yuan dynasty
Yuan dynasty
founded in China
in 1271. Further to that, the ensuing Toluid Civil War
Toluid Civil War
with Ariq Böke
Ariq Böke
and a later war with Kaidu
hit the town hard. In 1260, Kublai disrupted the town's grain supply, while in 1277 Kaidu
took Karakorum, only to be ousted by Yuan troops and Bayan of the Baarin in the following year.[12] In 1298–99 prince Ulus Buqa looted the markets and the grain storehouses. However, the first half of the 14th century proved to be a second time of prosperity: in 1299, the town had been expanded eastwards, then in 1311, and again from 1342 to 1346, the stupa temples were renewed.[3] Decline[edit]

Old, damaged stupa of Nirvana

After the collapse of the Yuan dynasty
Yuan dynasty
in 1368, Karakorum
became the residence of Biligtü Khan in 1370. In 1388, Ming troops occupied and later razed the capital. According to Saghang Sechen's Erdeni-yin Tobči, in 1415 a khuriltai decided to rebuild it, but no archaeological evidence for such a venture has been found yet. However, Karakorum
was inhabited at the beginning of the 16th century, when Batu-Möngke Dayan Khan made it a capital once again. In the following years, the town changed hands between Oirads and Chinggisids several times, and was consequently given up permanently.[clarification needed][3] Excavations[edit]

The model of the city Karakorum
in the National Museum of Mongolian History in Ulaan-Baatar

Model of the Khan Palace called Tumen Amgalan Ord, Wanangong (萬安宫) in Chinese

Erdene Zuu monastery
Erdene Zuu monastery
stands near Karakorum. Various construction materials were taken from the ruin to build this monastery. The actual location of Karakorum
was long unclear. First hints that Karakorum
was located at Erdene Zuu were already known in the 18th century, but until the 20th century there was a dispute whether or not the ruins of Karabalgasun, or Ordu-Baliq, were in fact those of Karakorum. In 1889, the site was conclusively identified as the former Mongol capital by Nikolai Yadrintsev, who discovered examples of the Orkhon script during the same expedition. Yadrintsev's conclusions were confirmed by Wilhelm Radloff.

Dening Hall of the Beiyue Temple
Beiyue Temple
built in 1270 during the Yuan Dynasty closely resembles the lost palace architecture of Dadu (Beijing) and Karakorum.

The first excavations took place in 1933–34 under D. Bukinich. After his Soviet-Mongolian excavations of 1948–49, Sergei Kiselyov concluded that he had found the remains of Ögödei's palace. However, this conclusion has been put into doubt by the findings of the 2000–2004 German-Mongolian excavations, which seem to identify them as belonging to the great stupa temple rather than to Ögödei's palace.[13] Excavation findings include paved roads, some brick and many adobe buildings, floor heating systems, bed-stoves, evidence for the processing of copper, gold, silver, iron (including iron wheel naves), glass, jewels, bones, and birch bark, as well as ceramics and coins from China
and Central Asia. Four kilns have also been unearthed.[14][15] Modern times[edit]

The Silver Tree Fountain of Karakorum
(modern reconstruction)

In 2004, Prime Minister Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj
Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj
appointed a working group of professionals to develop a project to build a new city at the site of the ancient capital Karakorum. According to him, the new Karakorum
was to be designed to be an exemplary city, with a vision of its becoming the capital of Mongolia. After his resignation and appointment of Miyeegombyn Enkhbold
Miyeegombyn Enkhbold
as Prime Minister, the project was abandoned.[citation needed] See also[edit]

Architecture of Mongolia Ordu-Baliq Khara-Khoto
(The Black City) Shangdu


^ Micheal Walther, Ein idealer Ort für ein festes Lager. Zur Geographie des Orchontals und der Umgebung von Charchorin (Karakorum), in: Dschingis Khan und seine Erben, p. 128 ^ Micheal Weiers, Geschichte der Mongolen, Stuttgart 2004, p. 76 ^ a b c d e Hans–Georg Hüttel, Karakorum
- Eine historische Skizze, in: Dschingis Khan und seine Erben, p. 133–137 ^ Jagar, Bayar, Baatar, Och, Urtogtokh, Wang, Bayartogtokh, J.Saintsogt, Mongol nuudel soyoliin tuuhen murdul (Historical investigation of Mongolian nomadic culture), Uvur Mongoliin surgan humuujliin hevleliin horoo (Educational Printing Committee of Inner Mongolia), Hohhot, 2001 ^ Baatar, Sh. Хархорум хотын 'Түмэн амгалан' ордны тухай тодруулга [Clarification of the 'Tumen Peace' palace in Karakorum] (in Mongolian). hicheel.mn. Archived from the original on 30 March 2014. Retrieved 30 March 2014.  ^ http://tashuur.mn/?p=631 ^ Tucker, Abigail (24 March 2009). "Genghis Khan's Treasures". Smithsonian.com. Retrieved 8 December 2017.  ^ Waugh, Daniel C. (2000). "The Pax Mongolica". Silk-road.com. Retrieved 8 December 2017.  ^ Mongolia, Land of Inspiration. Irmuun Press, 2008, p. 81. ^ " Genghis Khan
Genghis Khan
and the making of the Modern World " Jack Weatherford, p.170. ^ Hans-Georg Hüttel, Der Silberbaum im Palast des Ögedei Khan, in: Dschingis Khan und seine Erben, p. 152 ^ Rolf Trauzettel, Die Yüan-Dynastie, in: Michael Weiers (editor), Die Mongolen, Beiträge zu ihrer Geschichte und Kultur, Darmstadt 1986, p. 230 ^ Hans-Georg Hüttel, Der Palast des Ögedei Khan
Ögedei Khan
- Die Ausgrabungen des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts im Palastbezirk von Karakorum, in: Dschingis Khan und seine Erben, p. 140–146 ^ Christina Franken, Die Brennöfen im Palastbezirk von Karakorum, in: Dschingis Khan und seine Erben, p. 147–149 ^ Ulambayar Erdenebat, Ernst Pohl, Aus der Mitte der Hauptstadt - Die Ausgrabungen der Universität Bonn im Zentrum von Karakorum, in: Dschingis Khan und seine Erben, p. 168–175


This article incorporates public domain text posted on-line by The United States Library of Congress: A Country Study: Mongolia.

Further reading[edit]

Dschingis Khan und seine Erben (exhibition catalogue), München 2005 Qara Qorum-City (Mongolia). 1: Preliminary Report of the Excavations, Bonn 2002

External links[edit]

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Karakorum.

Wikivoyage has a travel guide for Karakorum.

Silk Road Seattle - Karakorum
and Cities along the Silk Road, posted at the web site of the University of Washington, 2004. Treasures of Mongolia
- Karakorum, Mongolia, UNESCO Courier, by Namsrain Ser-Odjav, March 1986. William of Rubruck's Account of the Mongols Mongolian-German excavations (in German)  "Karakorum". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). 1911. 

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WorldCat Identities VIAF: 25697