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Xanadu – the Rise and Fall of a Dynasty


The site was planned according to traditional Chinese feng shui, which takes into account the movement of energy in a structure. The river and mountains nearby had an effect on the layout. The design of the capital embodied that of a traditional Han city, while at the same time taking into consideration the nomadic habits of the Mongolians’ life style.

In 1260, Kublai Khan succeeded to the throne after Mongke Khan’s death, who was the leader of the Mongolian tribes and Kublai Khan’s elder brother, renaming the city Kaiping Fu, the capital under his reign. In 1271, he named his reign the Yuan Dynasty and established the capital in present day Beijing. Kaiping Fu was therefore renamed Shangdu, and became the summer resort of Kublai Khan.

The remains of a white marble base of a building, kept at Xanadu Site Museum.

Marco Polo was received by Kublai Khan in Shangdu in 1275. He described the city in his book.

“And when you have ridden three days… between north-east and north, you come to a city named Shangdu, which was built by the Khan who is now in power. There is at this place a very fine marble Palace, the rooms of which are all gilt and painted with figures of men and beasts and birds, and with a variety of trees and flowers, all executed with such exquisite art that you regard them with delight and astonishment.”

From this description, we can imagine how prosperous the city was at that time.

The site today features the remains of the city, including temples, palaces, tombs, nomadic encampments and the Tiefan’gang Canal along with other water works.

Porcelain unearthed from the site.

Xanadu city is square, consisting of the palace city, imperial city and outer city. The outer city is a square with 2200 meter sides. The city walls were built from stone and earth. The imperial city lies to the southeast corner of the outer city, which was occupied temporarily by imperial officials accompanying the emperor during his summers there. It is all built of stone. The palace city is a rectangle with two sides that reached 605 meters and two that were 542 meters long; the center was where the emperor and his wives lived. It was built with bricks.

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