Here we introduce everything you need to know about visiting in Karakorum city- the old capital of Mongol Empire, Silk road in Kharkhorin- history, places to visit and tours.
Kharkhorin soum is one of typical soums in Mongolia, with population of 12,499. It is located on the Basin of Orkhon River in Uvurkhangai province, about 360km directly west of Ulaanbaatar city. Its geological environment is belonged to the eastern part of Khangai upper zone. So the earth surface is dominated by steppe with river or stream alluviums surrounded by lower mountain ranges. Historically, this place has been important spot since XIII century until early XX century. The capital city of Mongol Empire and Religious center of Erdene Zuu were resided throughout the history after another.
Genghis Khan’s third son, next successor Ogodei chose the valley. It was appropriate for a good nomadic camp which was an open steppe with water supply. Also it cools wind shooing all mosquitoes and flies away. The name Karakorum derived from the way he built the palace where a sturdy wall was enclosed. Meaning of the name is ‘black stones’ or ‘black walls’. At first, Karakorum was a warehouse or workshop for most Mongols and Ogodei Khan. They continued to live in their Gers around Karakorum for most of the time. But they kept their goods and tribute collection in the Karakorum and craftsmen usually resided there doing their work.
Life in Karakorum
Apart from the palaces which were dedicated to Ogodei Khan himself and his wives, he ordered to build several worshiping houses for his Buddhist, Muslim, Taoist, and Christian followers. In order to draw merchants’ attention to Karakorum, Ogodei Khan paid extremely high prices for all kinds of qualified and unqualified goods. Since the Karakorum barely produced anything and its living resource was merchants, Ogodei put great effort to secure trade routes. He put his soldiers on guard and organized permanent stations guarded by his soldiers. Mongols planted trees or stone pillars alongside the road which made it quite convenience for merchants who traveled long road. With all these efforts, Ogodei could not make Karakorum as developed as Monke Khan’s Karakorum. Karakorum was still the modest capital city during Ogodei Khan although he laid the foundation of the great Imperial city of XIV century.
Monke was Tolui’s son and Genghis Khan’s grandson, who claimed the throne in 1251. When it came to develop Karakorum, Monke wanted to make it Imperial Capital city. He used his Christian craftsmen who were captured in his European campaign. They impressed him with their technical abilities of metalwork. One of them was Guillaume Boucher, a Parisian goldsmith. Together with a team of fifty assistant craftsmen, Boucher did a great job turning the Mongol capital into an overwhelming and distinctive styled city. Apart from this European style, the Karakorum was decorated with Chinese and Persian architectures.
Silver Tree in Enkh – Amgalan Palace
The most known creation among Mongolians by Guillaume Boucher was the Silver Tree erected in the center of the capital city. It was a mechanical tree which was activated by servants underneath the ground. When the King wanted to summon drinks for guests the mechanical angel that was set on the top of the tree raised the trumpet to her lips and sounded the horn. Then the mouths of the serpents that was directed to four universal directions began to pour out a fountain of four kinds of alcoholic beverages into large silver basins located at the base of the tree. It is reported that the Karakorum was the most beautiful city in the world at that time. With four great gates situated in the four sides of the capital city poured with loads of caravans.
Alongside with the merchants, numerous scholars and envoys were invited or came on their own will to the capital city and paid their respect to the Great King, Monke. Karakorum was the center of political, cultural and trade for different nationalities. It followed the decree of Genghis Khan, reference to the religious tolerance. It should be noted that the Karakorum city was the important destination for Silk Road merchants.
After Monke Khan’s death, quarrel between Khubilai and Arik Boke for the throne ended with defeat of Arik Boke. Not wanting to stay in Karakorum, Khubilai built his own capital city Khanbalik (current Beijing) in 1272. Subsequently old Karakorum was looted and virtually destroyed under the command of Khubilai Khan.
Archaeological Expeditions in Khakhorin
According to historians and archaeologists, old capital city Karakorum was located right behind of the Erdene Zuu Monastery. During the Joint Mongol-German archaeological excavation which was held on the central area of the Capital city in 2000, archaeologists found household items, irrigation system underneath floor, stone street, remnants of iron smith workshop, workshop of valuable metals, numerous amount of coins and other things.
Another important finding was foundation of the Great Buddhist Temple which was recorded in the inscription of Karakorum dated back to 1346. The excavated remnant of the temple is located right behind of the Erdene Zuu Monastery and all related findings are exhibited in the Museum of Karakorum. After you visit the Erdene Zuu Monastery, you can walk to the ancient temple remaining in Kharkhorin. You can also see the turtle rock which was built to surround the capital and protect from flooding.
Attractions in Karakorum
Depending on your schedule of the day, you’ll see Erdene Zuu Monastery as your main destination. If you have a time to spare you can visit the Museum of Karakorum, where you can get enough information on Mongol Empire of XIII-XIV century. There is another site for you to visit. It is the Memorial monument for Great Kings erected on the low hill in front of Orkhon River. You can hike up to or just drive by your car. The hill is not that high though you can see the whole soum from up and the scenery of the Orkhon River basin looks picturesque from here.
In every season, it’s quite windy here in Kharkhorin soum because of its open steppe. The most favorable months to visit would be June and September. Bring your water, sun cream, sun hat and umbrella depending on a weather forecast.