Shangdu: The City Founded by Khubilai Khan

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 pleasure-dome decree:
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.

The outer city wall from inside the city looking out

The outer city wall

The outer city wall

The Palace City Wall

Palace ruins in the middle of the Palace City

Palace ruins in the middle of the Palace City

Palace Ruins

The wall is a reconstruction on the original foundation using stone and bricks from the ruins

Stone post foundations

Stone post foundations

Northern wall (?) of the Palace City

Section of wall

Section of wall

Section of wall or building

Recently built ovoo on the wall

Looking across the ruins of the city

Looking across the ruins of the city

Looking across the ruins of the city

Stone Monument from the ruins

Stone Monument from the ruins

Return to Don Croner’s World Wide Wanders: China

 

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