The Karakorum, the first capital of the Mongolian Empire was built in a short time and became famous afar. Though this governing center influenced the politics, history, economy, culture, and lives of many Asians and European countries, written sources are extremely scarce about its history.

This deficiency is originated in the traditional nomadic lifestyle of the Mongols.  Mongolian aristocrats lived in the countryside following the traditional nomadic way of life and meet at the capital only for great assemblies, feasts, and other exceptional events.

The Karakorum was served as the capital of the Mongol Empire for 40 years, of its 140-year history. When we study the life in the Mongolian Empire in more depth, we learn it had towns and cities, a well-organized administrative system, a high level of culture and education, and views on all religion and literacy.

Guillaume de Rubrouck (1220 – 1293), the envoy of the French King Louis IX arrived at the Karakorum in 1254 during the reigning period of Mongke Khan and recorded his observation in detail. His records were most accurate than Italian monk Plano Carpini and  Persian officer Ata Malik Juvaini. He spent 2 months in the town and depicted two main quarters of the town.

The Karakorum initially founded as a center from which to govern the new empire in accordance with the nomadic steppe tradition, in the 13th century it developed as the most powerful capital in the world. Chinggis Khan chose the valley of the river Orkhon to start a new capital in 1220 but he could not finish it.

He described the Karakorum having a palace, administrative buildings, merchants, foreign envoys and delegates, markets and handicrafts.  The residents of the city included the variety of envoys arrived from all over the world and there were Chinese, Tibetan, Uigur, Persian, Indian, French, German, Hungarian and Russian nationals around 10.000 – 15.000 people living. The residents of Karakorum’s artisans and craftsmen came from different countries.

Researchers assume that during the time of Mongke Khan’s reign (1251 - 1259) or during its prosperity the city was comprised of 1.6km2.  According to Rubruck’s note, the city was surrounded by clay fortress with gates on 4 sides and there were 15 monasteries of different religions. There was a Chinese style district or area of craftsmen in the central part of the city, Muslim district on the northeast, Ger district on the northwest, and Buddist monastery of Mongke Khan on the south.

It is true that Chinggis Khan laid the basis of Karakorum. Then, it developed and became lively capital during the time of his second son and grandson Ogedei, Guyuk and Mongke. However, in 1260 when Kublai became the Khan, Karakorum lost its important role as Kublai Khan started to build Shangdu in 1256 in the south part of Mongol land, in the present area of shuluun Khokh banner in Inner Mongolia. He declared Shangdu as the capital city. Kublai Khan conquered almost all parts of China, and in 1264 he moved the capital to Yani-jin, the capital of Jin emperors ( near Beijing). It is also known as Daidu (present-day Beijing). He established the Yuan dynasty and wrote another great history of Mongols.

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