Karakorum (also Khara-khorin, Qara Qorum in Classical Mongolian) was the capital of the Mongol Empire in the 13th century, although for only about 30 years. Its ruins lie in the northwestern corner of the 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 Orkhon Valley Cultural Landscape.
The Orkhon valley had already been a center of the Xiongnu, Göktürk and Uighur empires. To the Göktürks, the nearby Khangai Mountains had been the location of the Ötükän, and the Uighur capital Karabalgasun was located close to where later Karakorum would be erected. This area is probably also one of the oldest farming areas in Mongolia.
In 1218/19, Genghis Khan rallied his troops for the campaign against the Khwarezm Empire in a place called Karakorum, but the actual foundation of a city is usually said to have only occurred 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.
ProsperityUnder Ögedei and his successors, Karakorum became a major site for world politics. Möngke had the palace enlarged, and the great stupa temple completed.. He described the walled city as having four doors in the four directions, two quarters of fixed houses, one for the "Saracenes" and one for the "Cathai" ( = Northern Chinese), twelve pagan temples, two mosques, as well as a nestorian church., 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 was expanded eastwards, in 1311 and again from 1342 to 1346 the stupa temple (after 1346 known as "Pavillion of the Rise of the Yuan () were renewed.
Findings of the excavations include paved roads, some brick and many adobe buildings, floor heating systems, bed-stoves, evidence for processing of copper, gold, silver, iron (incl. iron wheel naves), glass, jewels, bones, and birchbark, as well as ceramics and coins from China and Central Asia. Four kilns have also been unearthed.
There have been repeated calls to relocate Mongolia's capital to Kharkhorin. This is supposed to heal all kinds of ills which currently plague Mongolia, however no tangible measures have been implemented so far .
- Khara-Khoto the Black City
- Dschingis Khan und seine Erben (exhibition catalogue), München 2005
- Qara Qorum-City (Mongolia). 1: Preliminary Report of the Excavations, Bonn 2002
- This article incorporates public domain text posted on-line by The United States Library of Congress: A Country Study: Mongolia.
- 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
- Picture story by German photographer Marc Steinmetz for GEO magazine
- Mongolian-German excavations (in German)
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