The ancient ruins of Shangdu City, which used to be the capital of the Yuan Dynasty, are now located 20 kilometers on the east of Shangdong Town, Xilinguole City, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. With the Konggang Mountain on the north and the Luanhe River on the south, this area is on Jilianchuan Prairie. The air here is pure and fresh, and the scenery is exquisite and beautiful, therefore it is an ideal place for touring, sightseeing, vacationing and summering.
The city of Shangdu was built by Kublai Khan, who was the fifth emperor of the Yuan Dynasty and the grandson of Genghis Khan, who united the entire Mongolian prairie. The construction of the city began in 1,256AD and it took the ancient people three years to finish the whole project. After that it was named Kaiping City. In 1260AD, Kublai Khan acceded to the throne and made this place the capital of his country. In 1,263AD he changed the name of this city into Shangdu. In the next one hundred years after Kublai, there were another six emperors who also succeeded to the throne here.
Shangdu City, as the capital of the Yuan Dynasty, used to enjoy the same popularity and fame in Europe as Paris and Rome in the 13th century. Marco Polo, an Italian man who is now well known all over Europe, came to China and lived in the city of Shangdu for many years. As a world-famous traveler, Marco Polo wrote a famous book which named Travels of Marco Polo. In the book he vividly described his experiences in China and the prosperity of the capital city Shangdu.
Nowadays the general outline of the ancient city as well as the profile of architectures on the streets could be generally figured out by experts. Every year in summer, beautiful globeflowers bloom on the prairie, making the whole city surrounded by a golden sea of flowers.
When Kublai Khan acceded to the throne, much more artisans and craftsmen were called up to further construct the city. The city of Shangdu was designed by Liu Bingzhong, who was of Han nationality and at that time served as an important brainman in the court of Kublai. The design of the ancient city totally reflected the traditional city layout of the Han ethnic group; however, customs and lifestyles of the nomadic Mongolians also influenced the layout of the city.
In one word, Shangdu was at that time a beautiful city with its own unique styles. The city was composed of three parts, including the imperial palace, the royal residence and the outer city. The outline of the outer city was a rectangle, and the perimeter of it was about nine kilometers. The city walls were built with quarry stones and adobes. The royal residence was situated at the southeastern part of the capital city, and it was the place where the relatives of the emperor and other important officials lived. The imperial palace was in the central part of the city, and the emperor and his concubines lived here.
In the book-Travels of Marco Polo, there are detailed descriptions of this city, and the author wrote, 'Finally one city was constructed, and it was named Shangdu. This city was built by Kublai Khan. There were marble palaces, which were extraordinarily beautiful. All the buildings in the palace were gilt by gold with patterns of various animals and plants painted on the walls. The artisans were so skillful and their techniques were so amazing that one would be totally shocked when seeing all this.' From Marco Polo's records, we can easily imagine how prosperous the city of Shangdu was at that time.
As a world-famous ancient city in Chinese history, Shangdu was the first capital city constructed by the Mongolians on the prairie in the southern part of the big desert. It also served as an important strategic location for the Mongolians to further conquer the southern area of China after they became strong enough. Besides the three parts mentioned above in Shangdu City, there were two small annex fortifications outside on the east and west respectively. In the imperial palace, the most important architecture was Da'an Hall; in addition, there were Crystal Hall, Hongxi Hall and many other buildings. In the royal residence, there were as many as 72 architectures, including Qianyuan Temple, the Grand Huayan Temple, the Temple of Confucius and so on. In the outer city, it was mainly the imperial garden.
Nowadays, the relics of the sites of the palace, the royal residence, the outer city, and the defending fortifications have all been very well protected. The ancient layout, the scale and the unique characters of this prairie capital could be reflected. The site of the ancient Shangdu City is now the best-preserved and the highest-level protected ancient prairie capital city. It is also nicknamed "an ancient ruin embracing a great civilization". It is a big museum of high historical, cultural and artistic values. In 1988 it was listed as one of the top-priority national historical heritages; later in 1996, it became one of the preparatory candidates in China bidding for the World Cultural Heritage; and in 2006 it became one main candidate. It is now one of the ten most famous historical attractions of Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.