The old Mongolian
city of Shangdu is about fourteen miles north of the small city
of Dolonnuur (Doulun in Chinese) in Inner Mongolia. About
a miles off the main road is a new ger camp stands on the site
of a pavilion where Khubilai Khan would often stop for tea and
refreshments while outside the city. All traces of the pavilion
are now gone. About a mile further long black line can be seen
stretching across the plain. This is the ruins of the outer wall
of Shangdu city.
Shangdu is located on the Yellow Liles Plain, or the Golden Lotuses
Plain. This refers to the yellow flowers which bloom here profusely
in late summer. The city lies just north of the Luanhe River and
the fengshui of the area is said to be excellent. According to
Chinese historians, the construction of the city began in 1252,
when Khubilai was the khan of Kaiping Prefecture, and was completed
in 1256. At first the city was known as Kaipingfu (Kaiping Prefecture
Government Office). When Khubilai officially named the Yuan Dynasty
in 1271 and established his capital in Dadu (now Beijing) the
name was changed to Shangdu, which can mean in Chinese both earlier
and northern capital. Apparently Khubilai still retired here in
summertime, when the weather was much cooler than in Beijing.
Shangdu became a storied place, in large part perhaps because
of the lengthy account Marco Polo gives of his visit there.
Noted the Venetian gadabout:
A city named Shangdu, which
was built by the Khan who
is now in power. There are a lot of beautiful palaces built
out of stone in the city. All the houses are covered with gold
and decorated with the pictures of birds, animals and flowers.
These buildings and patterns are so beautiful that they are
pleasing to the eye,"
It is also the inspiration for Xanadu in Samuel
Coleridge’s famous poem:
In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately
Where Alph, the sacred river ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round:
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of green. Continued
. . .
The wall around the outer city is square with a total length
of 5.46 miles. Inside this is another rectangular wall around
the Imperial city, and yet another wall around the palace city.
The palace city wall is a rectangle measuring 1985 feet on two
sides and 1780 feet on the other two. In the middle of the palace
city was the palace where the khan and his wives lived.
The city was destroyed in the
so-called “Red Scarf Rebellion” of 1358, a precursor to the upheavals
which led to the fall of the Yuan Dynastery and the rise of the
Ming Dynasty. Today the city is still known to some as the Xiancheng,
or apparition city, since at certain times people have claimed
that the old city as it in the days of Khubilai appeared suddenly
before there eyes and then disappeared just as quickly, leaving
only the ruins as we see them today.