The Site of Xanadu, located on Jinlianchuan Prairie and the north bank of the Shandian River, is 12 miles (20 kilometers) northwest to the center of Zhenglan (Xulun Hoh) Banner of Xilingol League, Inner Mongolia in north China. Xanadu, Shangdu in Chinese, was the capital of China in the early years of the Yuan Dynasty (1271 - 1368). Established in 1256, this metropolis, created by the Mongols, a nation on horseback, is considered the archetype combination of farming and nomadic culture. Xanadu’s prominent position in history is as famous as the ancient city of Pompeii in Italy. The present Site of Xanadu, including the general layout and precious relics, was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2012, and has now become a most sought-after destination.
The Mongol Empire was the largest known in the history of the world, and covered most of modern-day Eurasia. In 1255, Kublai Khan, the grandson of Genghis Khan (the founder of the Mongol Empire), became governor of the prized fertile plains previously held by the Western Xia (Inner Mongolia). He started to build a city in 1256, and the project was completed in 1259. Kublai Khan ascended the throne there in 1260, and named the place Kaiping City. In 1264, it was renamed Xanadu (also Shangjing or Bianjing), and later served as the political, economic, military, and cultural center in northern China. During the following Yuan Dynasty, the Great Capital (Dadu) was created in today’s Beijing. From then on, Xanadu became a secondary capital and an imperial summer resort. Every year from March to September, the emperor and his ministers would handle the daily affairs there.
The ancient prosperity of Xanadu disappeared due to warfare and revolt, leading to the end of the Yuan Dynasty. The ancient city walls still tower over the foundations, and the differing layouts of houses can still be recognized implicitly today.
Passing through the entrance, you will see a huge bronze statue of Kublai Khan. Electric power carts are available for reaching the first gate; Mingde Gate, where you will pass through the flower district of Jinlianchuan Prairie.
Layout of Xanadu
The city of Xanadu was composed of three nested, square enclosures - the inner Imperial Palace, the larger Imperial City, and the Outer City as the outermost defense. It was 2,242 yards (2,050 meters) from east to west, 2,313 yards (2,115 meters) from south to north, and the girth was about 9,843 yards (9 kilometers). The city walls of the Imperial Palace and the Imperial City were built using bricks and stones, while the Outer City walls were composed mainly of soil.
It is recorded that 110,000 people lived there at the city’s height of power, with 60 government offices, and 160 ancestral temples and joss shrines in the city. Post roads led in all directions, resulting in a traffic hub connecting central and northern China.
The Outer City was separated by a soil wall in the west. The imperial garden named “Bei Yuan”, a place for animal hunting, lay to the north, where rare birds, beasts, flowers and trees abounded. The famous “Zongmao Hall” was built for the holding of “Ma Yan,” a splendid banquet for the handling of government affairs. In the south were offices, temples, and workshops.
The Mongols’ rectangular Imperial City was located in the southeast of the Outer City. Streets were neatly and symmetrically built, and there were many associated offices and temples. Qianyuan Temple and Huayan Temple were situated in the northwest and northeast corners respectively. The site of the southern Mingde Gate is still there today.
The Imperial Palace of Xanadu was half as large as the Forbidden City in Beijing. It was located a bit north to the center of Imperial City. All the main palaces, pavilions, government offices were built, and over 30 remnants of halls were discovered within the palace compound. These included the sites of the Crystal Palace, Hongxi Hall, Muqing Hall, and Da’an Pavilion. Da’an Pavilion, in the center of this palace, was the most significant building in the city, and also the symbol of Xanadu. In the north was the site of Muqing Hall. From the remains of the huge base, as tall as the wall, you can imagine the grandeur of this once largest building in the Imperial Palace. This palace boasted three gates with Yutian Gate in the south as the most important, for any imperial decree had to be announced there at first.
Outside of the Outer City, there were four “Guangxiang Areas” where residents and merchants lived, for they were not allowed to live in the city. In the north were military camps; in the south, busy trade areas full of shops, taverns, and inns; in the west, markets selling sheep and horses, and commercial districts; and in the east, reception areas for missions who wanted to go to court.
To the northwest of the city, a canal designed by the scientist Guo Shoujing in Yuan Dynasty is still there. It is the only irrigation work being completely preserved though the grasslands of northern China.
Legendary Xanadu played a very important role in Chinese history, international diplomacy, and commerce. It was prosperous in the Yuan Dynasty, with merchants from around China, Asia, the Middle East, and Europe, coming to make deals of varieties of goods such as metal wares, pottery, and luxuries consumed by aristocrats. Many envoys were receipted in the city. Marco Polo, an Italian traveler and businessman, was paramount in introducing Chinese goods and culture to the rest of the world. His famous book ‘Travels of Marco Polo’ describes his 17 years spent in China, including the special experience in Xanadu.
Admission Fee CNY 30
CNY 10 (electric power carts, from the entrance of the site to the Mingde Gate)
(It takes about 15 minutes to walk to the gate.)
Transportation Take a train from Hohhot, the capital of Inner Mongolia to Zhenglan Banner Station, which is 16 miles (25 kilometers) to the site of Xanadu, and then charter a car (about CNY 150 for a round trip) to get there.