Karakoram (city)

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Karakoram ( Mongolian ᠬᠠᠷᠠᠬᠣᠷᠣᠮ (Qara Qorum) or Хархорин ( Kharkhorin ) ), for "black mountains", "black rock", "black rubble", is a ruin site at the foot of the Changai Mountains in Mongolia . It was the capital of the Mongol Empire between 1235 and 1260 .

View of Orkhontal and Kharkhorin


Coordinates: 47 ° 12 ′ 40 ″  N , 102 ° 51 ′ 0 ″  E

Map: Mongolia
Karakoram (city)

Karakorum, the former capital of the altmongolische of Genghis Khan founded in the 13th century Mongol Empire , which represents a length of 1.5 km, about 2 sq km city devastation that around 320 km west of Ulaanbaatar in the valley of Orkhon on the east side of this River lies. It adjoins the north wall of the Erdene Dsuu monastery . Today's Kharkhorin settlement is located just south of it .

In the same river valley, there is also evidence of cultural history from much older empires nearby. These include the tombs of ancient Turkish khans, the ruins of the east Uyghur capital Charbalgas (744–840 AD) and those of the other capitals of various steppe and ancient Turkish empires .



Later inscriptions link the founding of Karakoram with Genghis Khan in 1220. The reconstruction of such an inscription on fragments of a stele speaks of this date and the determination of this location for his residence in the Kharkhorin area, among other residences throughout the country. But the Orkhon was and is the lifeline of the entire region, and the centers of great steppe empires lay on its banks even before Genghis Khan. Due to his choice of location for a further residence and later founding of the city precisely at this point, which is certainly not random, he deliberately remained in the tradition of his predecessors. The centers of ancient Mongol empires in the Orkhon valley marked the center of the world for the Mongols even then.


It was not until Ögedei Khan , the son and successor of Genghis Khan, that Karakorum developed into the first capital of the Mongol Empire. He expanded the important residence into a real city and, from 1235, also provided it with a fortification. This subsequent Khan then transformed the Mongolian predatory nation, among other things through the introduction of state chancelleries and the construction of a Khan's palace in this city (1236 to 1256) into a permanently organized state . For the Mongols, Karakoram is still the nucleus and birthplace of their nation-state .

In addition, the city also became a religious center and the place of state cult. Once under Kublai Khan of Buddhism was declared the state religion, the Mongols had all that is absolutely necessary for the stability of a great empire in general: One capital, a linking Scripture and a high religion.

To carry out activities previously unknown to the nomads , the great khans brought foreign artisans and artists to their country, but above all to this new capital. The Mongols did not acquire the knowledge of the foreigners, but let them work for them. The foreign craftsmen and artists came to them partly voluntarily, but partly they were also deported here. This is exactly what happened to the Parisian goldsmith Guillaume Boucher , who was captured in the Battle of Muhi in Hungary in 1241 and brought to Karakoram by the Mongols. There he was no longer allowed to leave the city, but he lived in good living conditions, newly married and with his own house. He was commissioned by the Khan to build a silver fountain for his palace, later described in detail by Wilhelm von Rubruk as a great work of art, from whose four large silver arms , on certain occasions, honey mead , fermented mare's milk ( Airag ), rice beer and wine gushed.


In Karakoram, the cruel warlike and tyrannical khans who followed Dschinghis Khan also showed their second, completely different face. Due to their tolerant attitude towards everything new and unknown, their capital became not only the control center of the imperial administration and a center of trade and handicrafts, but also a melting pot of different religions, cultures and peoples in the 13th century.

This is also reported by the Flemish Franciscan Wilhelm von Rubruk, who in 1253 on behalf of Pope Innocent IV and King Louis IX. had traveled to Karakorum and arrived there in April 1254: “There are two districts, that of the Saracens , where the weekly market takes place. The other is the Northern Chinese neighborhood who are craftsmen across the board. There are also twelve idol temples and two mosques , as well as a Nestorian- Christian church at the far end of the city . "

According to further statements by this visitor, the Muslim population was primarily the traders and the Chinese the artisans. In addition, these population groups lived in separate districts. The most splendid building, however, was considered to be the great palace of the Khan, in which the above-mentioned silver fountain, created for the Khan by the captured goldsmith Guillaume Boucher, was located.

Intensive agriculture was carried out outside the city to supply the residents of Karakoram. An extensive irrigation system created by the Chinese made the steppe arable. Via widely branched trade routes, especially the Silk Road , goods were brought in with which the population could not provide for themselves. This is how Karakorum developed into a powerful trading metropolis, as has also been proven by archaeological finds.


It lost its status as the capital of the Mongol Empire under Kublai Khan , who chose Beijing as the capital. When the Chinese overthrew the Mongol Yuan dynasty in 1368 , the Mongols fled back to the northern steppe and made Karakoram their capital again. For them the Yuan Dynasty continued there and they called the territory that remained to them after the expulsion from Beijing and China the " Northern Yuan ". But the resurgent Chinese continued their attacks undiminished in the following years and in 1388 they finally succeeded in completely destroying Karakoram as well. Nevertheless, the city retained its importance as a national symbol. In 1415 a Mongolian imperial assembly decided to rebuild. The city finally fell into disrepair in the late 16th century and became a quarry for the Buddhist monastery Erdene Dsuu , which was built in 1586 and which can be shown to have been built partly from the stones of the old capital.


Model of the city of Karakoram in the National Museum of Mongolian History in Ulaanbaatar

By a Soviet-Mongolian expedition in 1948/49 and in other excavation campaigns under Mongol leadership, parts of the city and - as previously suspected - the Khan's palace of Ugedai Khan were excavated. Since 2000, archaeologists from the Commission for Archeology of Non-European Cultures of the German Archaeological Institute have been digging together with Mongolian scientists in the area of ​​the presumed Khan Palace and the craftsmen's quarter in the former city center.

Using the latest methods, a digital terrain profile of the entire assumed city area was created and based on these results, a model of the entire former city complex was created.

Artisan district

During excavations in the craftsmen's quarter, an iron forge, a silver and goldsmith's workshop, a bronze foundry and a workshop for glass production and bone processing were found. In this area, a piece of the main street was exposed with expansion joints made of wood on the edge and within the stone paving . These joints were supposed to compensate for the changes in volume of the stone road surface during the strong temperature fluctuations that are common in the Central Asian steppe. Water or sewer channels made of mud bricks have also been discovered.

Coin finds

Finds of coins from different countries show a brisk supraregional trade, whereby the conspicuous accumulation of Chinese coins in the previously suspected Chinese artisan quarter now confirms the location of the same quite clearly.

Model of the Khan palace or temple near Karakorum in the National Museum of Mongolian History in Ulaanbaatar

Khan Palace

Excavations in the area of the suspected as Khan Palace area could however not confirm in archeology as well-founded prestigious interpretations of Kiselev until then. New excavation findings suggest that the remains of the "Temple of the Rise of the Yuan", also located outside the city center, were found here. From today's point of view, all of the finds are much more in line with the very long construction period from 1236 to around 1256, which characterizes this pavilion of the rise of the Yuan dynasty as the first Erdene Dsuu , but on the other hand they also indicate a much earlier presence of Buddhist Lamaist monks than before supposed.

Foundation stele

A second Mongolian interpreter stone was found in the foundation of another ancient temple , with a short text in Chinese script on one side and the same text in Mongolian script on the other. At the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, eight more fragments were found, all of which belong together to one stele . All of these finds reveal identical parts of a text that is already known to researchers in its complete form from the "Collected Works" of Xu Yuren (1287–1364). This stele text proves for the first time the year 1220 as the date of the determination of the residence of Karakoram by Genghis Khan. This stele was later smashed and used to build the Erdene Dsuu monastery in Karakoram.

Erdene Dsuu Monastery

Erdene Dsuu Monastery , also called Erdeni Joo , was built in 1586 by Prince Abbot Sain Khan . In 1870, there were around 62 temples in the Chinese-Mongolian mixed style on a large area within its square outer wall. The monastery was one of the most important Buddhist centers in Asia. However, during the time of the communist government of Mongolia, most of the temples were completely destroyed. Some buildings have been reconstructed in the last few years, but the complete restoration of the complex does not seem affordable in the foreseeable future. The interior of the monastery complex is currently being archaeologically examined for evidence of the former Khan palace.

Stone turtles

Stone turtle

Three large stone turtles were found near the abbey. Researchers are now certain that the turtle was the symbol of Karakoram back then. Even in the Chinese tradition, the turtle has a great symbolic meaning. The arched shell symbolizes the vault of heaven and the flat underside the earth. In addition, the turtle is a male symbol that also embodies all four directions and is considered to be particularly long-lived.

The turtles are considered to be the remains of the Khan's palace.

Official seal

During excavations in the city, an official seal with partly Chinese and Phags-pa script (also Mongolian square script ) was found. This seal proves the existence of the "Northern Yuan" and their administration, for example under Biligtü Khan in Karakorum before the destruction of the capital by the Chinese.


  • H. Roth (ed.): Qara Qorum-City (Mongolia). Preliminary report of the excavations 2000/2001. Bonn 2002 (English).
  • E. Becker: The old Mongolian capital Karakorum - research history based on historical statements and archaeological sources. Rahden iW 2007.
  • Hans-Georg Hüttel: The city that made the state. A story of Karakoram. In: Gudrun Ziegler, Alexander Hogh (Ed.): The Mongols. In the realm of Genghis Khan. Theiss, Stuttgart 2005, ISBN 3-8062-1940-0 , pp. 32-57.
  • W. Radloff: Atlas of the antiquities of Mongolia. St. Petersburg 1892.
  • Wilhelm von Rubruk: Journeys to the Great Khan of the Mongols: from Constantinople to Karakorum 1253–1255 . Revised and edited by Hans Dieter Leicht . Edition Erdmann, Wiesbaden 2012, ISBN 978-3-86539-833-8 .
  • Juvaini: The History of the World-Conqueror. Translated from the text of Mirza Muhammad Qazvini by John Andrew Boyle. Manchester 1958 (English).
  • Karakoram - A historical sketch. In: Genghis Khan and his heirs. The Mongol Empire. Exhibition catalog Bonn / Munich 2005.

Web links

Commons : Karakoram  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ German Archaeological Institute (DAI): Karakorum. ( Memento of October 31, 2010 in the Internet Archive ) From: dainst.de Retrieved on September 3, 2013.
  2. Hans-Georg Hüttel : Rescue the Broken… The Mongolian - German Karakoram Expedition. In: Mongolian Notes. No. 9, 2000, pp. 40-44.
  3. The Mongols - The Heirs of Genghis Khan on YouTube , accessed on June 15, 2019 (Karakoram as a model).
  4. Hans-Georg Hüttel: In the Palace of Eternal Peace - The Mongolian-German excavations in the palace district of Karakorum (Mongolia). In: Expeditions to Forgotten Worlds. 25 years of archaeological research in America, Africa and Asia. (= Research on General and Comparative Archeology. (AVA Research) Vol. 10). Bonn 2004, pp. 179-208.
  5. ^ Hans-Georg Hüttel: The project "Karakorum Palace". In: Mongolian Notes. Special edition 2005, pp. 7–13.