The site of Xanadu lies to the north of the Great Wall of China. It comprises the remains of the famous ruler Kublai Khan’s city. This city of Xanadu was designed by a Chinese advisor belonging to Mongolian rulers, namely, Liu Bingzhang, in 1256. The area of the site is 25,000 hectares. The purpose of setting up the base for ruling at this site was to bring the nomadic Mongolian and Han Chinese cultures together. The Yuan dynasty was set up, which ruled for over a hundred years and then expanded to Asia. Later on, Tibetan Buddhism was also spread. The site was planned according to Chinese ‘Feng Shui’ concerning the surrounding mountains and rivers. Today, the remains of the city include temples, palaces, tombs, nomadic encampments and the Tiefgang Canal along with other waterworks.

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Site of Xanadu_©Ko Hon Chiu Vincent (KHV)

Xanadu and its Geography

Xanadu is known as the grassland capital. It depicts cultural fusion, showing clashes and assimilations between the nomadic and Agrarian civilizations in northern Asia. The site comprises grasslands in a stepped manner on a Mongolian plateau. This was made the capital city, first, in 1263–73 by Kublai Khan. Later, it was turned into the summer capital. The stretch is about the northern-southern axis, with mountains on the north and a river on the south. Xanadu is backed up by the palace and imperial city. An outer city is also built in the further layer, which has nomadic encampments and places of royal hunting. Such activities make a good example of cultural fusion. There have been several religious debates and writings of foreign travelers, which have been a source of inspiration for centuries.

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An aerial photographic image of the Palace City_©Zhenglan Qi Administration of Cultural Heritage of the Site of Xanadu City, Xilingol Meng, Inner Autonomous Region

The site of Xanadu has influenced both the Mongolian and Han Chinese ethnicities. It sets a unique example of an integrated city plan involving different ethnic communities yet maintaining the original cultural traditions. It has an urban pattern and also has a farming culture. The Han City Plan has many gardens and landscapes, forming an urban layout that has created a significant stage in history.

The integrity of the site

The site was abandoned in 1430. It consists of the grasslands that were built and used in the 13th and 14th centuries. There are remnants of wall lines from the Palace City, Imperial City, and Outer City, indicating traditional central Chinese urban planning. There were proper arrangements for Mongolian tribal meetings and hunting. The can mounds indicate the existing palace and temple buildings. They are excavated, recorded, and reburied. There are remains of neighborhoods outside the gate, Tiefang canal and tomb areas, in their natural state. There are four existing types of grassland landscape, one of them being- the Xar Tala Globeflower plain and river wetlands.

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The outer appearance of the east city wall of the Imperial City (2008)_©Zhenglan Qi Administration of Cultural Heritage of the Site of Xanadu City, Xilingol Meng, Inner Autonomous Region

The authenticity of the site 

The studies of archaeological excavation and historical records showcase the authenticity of the site. The records represent an interchange between Mongolian and Han people. The data consists of the capital design, historical layouts, and building materials. The tombs showcase historical claims of both Mongolian and Han people who lived in Xanadu. The Mingde gate and the east wall of the Imperial City have been renovated but with minimal intervention to the structure. The grassland landscape maintains the geographical environment intact, not hampering the environmental setting and spatial feeling of the capital.

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Excavated dragon patterns pillar_©Zhenglan Qi Administration of Cultural Heritage of the Site of Xanadu City, Xilingol Meng, Inner Autonomous Region

The state of the site today

The site of Xanadu was protected by the laws of the state, the region, and the municipality in their individual lives. Xanadu City and its surroundings, along with the Tiefan’gan Canal, are protected at the state level by the Law of the People’s Republic of China, for the protection of cultural diversity. The Tombs of Zhenzi Hills are protected at the level of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region People’s Government. The Tombs of Modot and the 12 designated Oboo sites are protected at the level of Zhenglan Qi. In the year 2012, this property was approved as a National Priority Protected Cultural Heritage Site by the State Council of China.

Scene from the archaeological excavation of Zhenzi Hill’s tombs (2008)_©Zhenglan Qi Administration of Cultural Heritage of the Site of Xanadu City, Xilingol Meng, Inner Autonomous Region

The grasslands surrounding the site of Xanadu are protected by the Grassland Law of the People’s Republic of China, which was promoted in 1995 and amended in 2002. The other law which protects them is the Grasslands Regulations of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, which were promoted in the year of 1984 and amended in the year 2004. The overall protection of the site of Xanadu was provided by the Regulations on the Protection and Management in the Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region in the year 2010, which was administered by Xilingol Meng. The Xanadu City and its surroundings, as well as the Tombs of Modot and Tombs of Zhenzi Hill are securely fenced.

The property is well managed and coordinated by the Xilingol Meng Cultural Heritage Administration of Xanadu, under the Xilingol Meng Conservation & Management Committee, which was guided by the Conservation & Management Plan for the site of Xanadu. The site promotes the concept of sustainable development, balancing the local social economy while ensuring the protection of property. The conservation of grasslands is done with the proper control of desertification. The needs of stakeholders are well understood concerning livestock capacity and the rising demand for tourism. Hence, eventually and gradually, heritage management is being strengthened and improved.

References:

  1. https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1389/
  2. https://www.worldhistory.org/Xanadu/
Author

A young architect, and a keen learner who would love to experiment with the intricacy of architecture as per changing environment and the functioning of the society, keeping in mind the sustainability factor and history of the respective place or building.

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