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Coordinates: 47°11′53″N 102°49′16″E / 47.19806°N 102.82111°E / 47.19806; 102.82111

Stupas around Erdene Zuu monastery in Karakorum

Karakorum (Khalkha Mongolian: Каракорум Kharkhorin, Classical Mongolian: Хара Хорум Qara Qorum) was the capital of the Mongol Empire in the 13th century, and of the Mongolian Qaghanate in the 14-15th century. 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 Ötüken, 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[1].

In 1218/19, Genghis Khan rallied his troops for the campaign against the Khwarezm Empire in a place called Karakorum[2], 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. [3]


Under Ögedei and his successors, Karakorum became a major site for world politics. Möngke Khan had the palace enlarged, and the great stupa temple completed.[3]

William of Rubruck

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 stated that the monastery in said village is 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 has become the symbol of Karakorum[4]. 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", twelve pagan temples, two mosques, as well as a Nestorian church.[3]

Later Times

When Kublai Khan claimed the throne of the Mongol Empire in 1260—as did his younger brother, Ariq Boke—, he relocated his capital to Shangdu, and later to Dadu (today's Beijing). Karakorum was reduced to the administrative center of a provincial backwater of the Yuan Dynasty founded in China in 1271. Even worse, the ensuing wars with Ariq Boke and later Kaidu hit the town hard. In 1260, Kublai disrupted the town's grain supply, in 1277 Kaidu took Karakorum, only to be ousted by Yuan troops and Bayan of the Baarin in the following year.[5] 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 Xingyuange (traditional Chinese: 興元閣, "Pavilion of the Rise of the Yuan")) were renewed.[3]


After the collapse of the Yuan dynasty in 1368 Karakorum became the residence of Biligtü Khan in 1370. In 1388, Ming troops under General Xu Da took and destroyed the town. Saghang Sechen's Erdeni-yin Tobči claims that a khuriltai in 1415 decided to rebuild it, but no archeological 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.[3]


The Silver Tree Fountain of Karakorum (modern reconstruction)

In 1585 Abatai Khan of the Khalkha built the Tibetan Buddhist Erdene Zuu monastery near the site. 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 the Orkhon script during the same expedition. Yadrintsev's conclusions were seconded by Wilhelm Radloff.

First excavations were done in 1933/34 under D. Bukinich. After his Soviet-Mongolian excavations in 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 point to the great stupa temple rather than Ögödei's palace.[6]

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 birch bark, as well as ceramics and coins from China and Central Asia. Four kilns have also been unearthed.[7][8]

Modern days

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

See also


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


  1. ^ 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
  2. ^ Micheal Weiers, Geschichte der Mongolen, Stuttgart 2004, p. 76
  3. ^ a b c d e Hans - Georg Hüttel, Karakorum - Eine historische Skizze, in: Dschingis Khan und seine Erben, p. 133 - 137
  4. ^ Hans - Georg Hüttel, Der Silberbaum im Palast des Ögedei Khan, in: Dschingis Khan und seine Erben, p. 152
  5. ^ Rolf Trauzettel, Die Yüan-Dynastie, in: Michael Weiers (editor), Die Mongolen, Beiträge zu ihrer Geschichte und Kultur, Darmstadt 1986, p. 230
  6. ^ Hans-Georg Hüttel, Der Palast des Ögedei Khan - Die Ausgrabungen des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts im Palastbezirk von Karakorum, in: Dschingis Khan und seine Erben, p. 140 - 146
  7. ^ Christina Franken, Die Brennöfen im Palastbezirk von Karakorum, in: Dschingis Khan und seine Erben, p. 147 - 149
  8. ^ 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

External links

Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikitravel


Kharahhorin (also Karakorin) is a city in Central Mongolia. Locals call Har Horin or Harhorin.

Get in

Bus, Microbus from the Dragon Bus station in Ulaanbaatar. The Dragon Bus station is on the west side of UB, along Peace ave. Check the bus schedule inside. Outside will be small Korean minivans, usually there is a sign in the front window. Look for KharKhorin or Harhorin.

Tour companies.

Xar Bulgas
Xar Bulgas
  • Xar Bulgas (ancient captial of the Uigher Empire (800AD)). Also called Har Bulgas. Western sources might call Khar Bulgas. Exit Harhorin to the West, at the west side of the town, the road turns NW and crosses the Orhon River. This is a paved road. Then there is a section of unpaved road then paved again. The pavement ends the second time at about 13.5 km from Harhorin, there are milage posts. Take the Eastern (right) most track, generally go North past the Herder's Gers. At this point the road is going NW, continue to N47 23.946 E102 36.092. Turn right going NE. N47 25.838 E102 39.506 (N47 25.838,E102 39.506) edit
  • Bilge Khaan Memorial, Harhorin, Mongolia (In Harhorin there is a paved road on the west side of the Erdene Zuu Monastery. This road leads North to the museum, about 45km.). daytime. This is a new museum funded by the Turkish Government. There was an old Turk Empire located here and two stone stele with Turkish inscriptions to Bilge Khaan and Kul Tigin. Bilge Khaan lived 683-734AD. There is a caretaker living on the Northside of the museum who will let you in. N47 33.644 E102 50.410 (N47 33.644,E102 50.410) edit
Khakhorin temple
Khakhorin temple
  • KharKhorum (Harhorum, KharaKhorum), Harhorin, Mongolia (Take main paved road west from Ulaanbaatar, At Lun, the road splits you can take either branch, but most take the southern branch. If you take the southern branch the road is paved all the way, except for a 50km section East of Lun.). any. The capital is located on the North side of the Erdene Zuu Monastery. Go to the North west corner of the Monastery, enter the fenced compound, used to be a sign here stating that the UN had paid for the fence. About 100m north you will come to some small fenced areas and a stone turtle, one of two inside the city fence. Between the turtle and the stupa is the remains of Ogodei Xaan's palace. A German and Mongolian team has been excavating here. The other stone turtle is in the SE corner. A third is in the hills south of Erdene Zuu. N47 12.361 E102 50.473 none. (N47 12.361,E102 50.473) edit
  • Erdene Zuu Monastery (Erdenezuu), Harhorin, Mongolia, [1]. Daily. This Monastery was originally built in the 1500's, but has been destroyed several times. It is free to enter the grounds, but a tour inside the old temples costs 3000 togrog, 5000 more to take pictures inside. In the NW corner is an active Temple serving the local population, this temple is in Tibetan style. none.  edit
  • Tovhon Temple (Tovkhon Temple), SW of Harhorin (From Harhorin go south, upstream on the west side of the Orhon River.). Daylight. Go Southwest from Harhorin on the west bank of the Orhon River to N46 56.000 E102 22.322 turn right (west) There is a park entrance with USD3 fee per person. Continue up the valley until you see the many blue cloths turn up the hill on the SW side. The upper part of the road is in poor condition. Alternately, from the Orhon Waterfall, go NE along the river until you come to the bridge at N46 48.503 E102 1.668 follow the river on the west side to the turn mentioned above. Great view from the top. USD3. (N47 00.749,E102 15.412) edit
  • Orhon Waterfall (Orkhon Waterfall), SW of Harhorin (Southwest from Harhorin, the west side of the Orhon River). Southwest on the west side of the river to the bridge at N46 48.503 E102 1.668. Cross to the south side and continue west to the falls at N46 47.151 E101 57.648 (N46 47.151,E101 57.648) edit


During the summer, sometimes there is several restaurants in the shopping area. The white hotel between Erdene Zuu Monastery and the shopping area, on the North side of the canal serves meals.

Several small cafes were open during the day near the container shopping area 1.5km west of the Erdene Zuu monastery.


There are several Hotels, guest houses and ger camps.

Get out

Get a shared car or jeep, or minivan to UlaanBaatar, Hujirt, or Tsetserleg from the East side of the Container marketplace in the middle of town.

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1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

KARAKORUM (Turkish, "black stone debris"), the name of two cities in Mongolia. One of these, according to G. Potanin, was the capital of the Uighur kingdom in the 8th century, and the other was in the 13th century a capital of the steppe monarchy of Mongolia. The same name seems also to have been applied to the Khangai range at the headwaters of the Orkhon. (I) The Uighur Karakorum, also named Mubalik ("bad town"), was situated on the left bank of the Orkhon, in the Talal-khain-dala steppe, to the south-east of Ughei-nor. It was deserted after the fall of the Uighur kingdom, and in the 10th century Abaki, the founder of the Khitan kingdom, planted on its ruins a stone bearing a description of his victories. (2) The Mongolian Karakorum was founded at the birth of the Mongolian monarchy established by Jenghiz Khan. A palace for the khan was built in it by Chinese architects in 1234, and its walls were erected in 1235. Plano Carpini visited it in 1246, Rubruquis in 1253, and Marco Polo in 1275. Later, the fourth Mongolian king, Kublai, left Karakorum, in order to reside at Kai-pin-fu, near Peking. When the khan Arik-bog declared himself and Karakorum independent of Kublai-Khan, the latter besieged Karakorum, took it by famine, and probably laid it waste so thoroughly that the town was afterwards forgotten.

The exact sites of the two Mongolian capitals were only established in 1889-1891. Sir H. Yule (The Book of Marco Polo, 1871) was the first to distinguish two cities of this name. The Russian traveller Paderin in 1871 visited the Uighur capital (see Turks), named now by the Mongols Kara Balghasun ("black city") or Khara-kherem ("black wall"), of which only the wall and a tower are in existence, while the streets and ruins outside the wall are seen at a distance of 1 m. Paderin's belief that this was the old Mongol capital has been shown to be incorrect. As to the Mongolian Karakorum, it is identified by several authorities with a site on which towards the close of the 16th century the Buddhist monastery of Erdeni Tsu was built. This monastery lies about 25 m. south by east of the Uighur capital. North and north-east of the monastery are ruins of ancient buildings. Professor D. Pozdneev, who visited Erdeni Tsu for a second time in 1892, stated that the earthen wall surrounding the monastery might well be part of the wall of the old city. The proper position of the two Karakorums was determined by the expedition of N. Yadrintsev in 1889, and the two expeditions of the Helsingfors Ugro-Finnish society (1890) and the Russian academy of science, under Dr W. Radlov (1891), which were sent out to study Yadrintsev's discovery.

See Works (Trudy) of the Orkhon Expedition (St Petersburg, 1892); Yule's Marco Polo, edition revised by Henri Cordier (of Paris), vol. i. ch. xlvi. (London, 1903). Cordier confines the use of Karakorum to the Mongol capital; Pozdneev, Mongolia and the Mongols, vol. i. (St Petersburg, 1896); C. W. Campbell, "Journeys in Mongolia," Geog. Journ. vol. xx. (1903), with map. Campbell's report was printed as a parliamentary paper (China No. z, 1904).

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