Site Of Xanadu Facts: Know About The Archaeological Site Of China

Arpitha Rajendra
Feb 03, 2023 By Arpitha Rajendra
Originally Published on Mar 22, 2022
Edited by Sarah Nyamekye
site of Xanadu also called as Shangdu


The site of Xanadu, also popularly referred to as Shangdu, is a well-known archeological site in China that has been given the title of a world heritage site by UNESCO. This site marks the base of the Yuan Dynasty establishment, which ruled all over China and across Asia for over a century.

Earlier, the Mongol Empire rulers of the Yuan Dynasty had designated this site as their summer capital.

Today, it is one of the must-visit archeological sites of China, encompassing the ruins of Kublai Khan's capital city.

Visitors can sense the unusual instances of the Han Chinese culture blending with the nomadic Mongolian culture. The spread of the cultural and religious tradition of Tibetan Buddhism over a vast region of northeast Asia can be owed to a significant debate that was hosted by this very site of Xanadu.

Xanadu is found in the inner parts of Mongolia, in the Zhenglan Banner. Located on the Mongolian plateau's southeastern edge, it is spread over an area of 1195 acres.

It features palatial buildings, religious temples, nomadic encampments, long canals, and mighty tombs, all placed according to the Chinese Feng Shui. With the towering nearby mountains and glistening river skirting this site, it is no wonder that travelers from every part of the world flock to get a glimpse of this site.

Discovery And History

Xanadu came into existence in 1256 and was initially called the Kaiping City. This was during the reign of the Mongol Empire in China before even the Yuan Dynasty came into existence. They planned to move their capital to Xanadu in northeast China from the Karakoram in 1263.

1271 saw the emergence of the Yuan Dynasty with Kublai Khan's rule. Being a mighty ruler like his grandfather, Genghis Khan, he was the force behind changing Song Dynasty to Yuan Dynasty.

Kaiping City was then renamed Xanadu or Shangdu, meaning 'Upper Capital', which went on to serve as a summer capital for the emperors residing in the hot southern capital of Beijing or Dadu. Every summer, crucial matters of the state were privately discussed at Xanadu with senior officials.

1369 witnessed the fall of the Yuan Dynasty and the rise of the Ming Dynasty. During this time, the city's original name was restored, and Shangdu became Kaiping Prefecture.

The Buddhist temples and architectural buildings were living proof of the Mongolian and Chinese culture blend. This mixture of nomadic and traditional cultures made people believe that their emperors had chosen to abandon their culture to live as Chinese.

Within no time, Kaiping Prefecture lost its previous status and was soon seen serving as a border guard post. This site was ruined due to raging fires in 1358, and after decades of Ming Dynasty rule, in 1430 this city was abandoned.

By 2011, the site of Xanadu started witnessing plenty of travel enthusiasts pouring in from all parts of the world. Its rich history, popularity, and significance led to this site being recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2012.

Cultural Heritage

The site of Xanadu is an epitome of cultural fusion wherein agricultural, and nomadic civilizations can be seen intermingled with each other. The grassland here features historic tombs placed as per traditional Chinese Feng Shui norms. Encapsulated by mountains at the north and the flowing river at the south, this site is a treat for the eyes.

Kublai Khan unified the agricultural civilization of China with the existing culture here during the establishment of the Yuan Dynasty. In Xanadu, the outer city encloses the Imperial City and palace, where stark evidence of nomadic civilization and royal hunting enclosures can be seen.

This is a beautiful example of how two distinct cultures have been fused with each other. Earlier, several water control works were instigated in order to safeguard the city, and instances of this can still be seen in the Tiefan'gan Canal.

This site is a living testimony to the supreme rule of Kublai Khan. It portrays the efforts put in by the conqueror to maintain the initial traditions while bringing in new cultural values.

As Kublai Khan rose to power in Xanadu, he encouraged religious debates and entertained several foreign travelers. This paved the way for the debate between Taoism and Buddhism, which ultimately resulted in the expansion of Tibetan Buddhism all over northeast Asia.

This is a site where the farming culture of the Han Chinese people and the nomadic culture of the Mongolian people can be seen coexisting in an urban pattern. Due to the cultural combination of these two groups, the Yuan Dynasty was able to extend its reach to a large part of the world.

Xanadu site was said to be a crucial stopping spot on the Silk Road where several foreign envoys were hosted, one among them was the famous Venetian explorer Marco Polo. He recorded his experiences in Xanadu in great detail in his book titled 'The Travels of Marco Polo'.

The beauty of Xanadu was also elaborated in the poem 'Kubla Khan' by the well-known English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge. This poem served as an inspiration to several Europeans and Americans who were yearning for an adventure in Xanadu.

Archeological Excavations

The site of Xanadu is shaped like a square with a central axis marking the Palace City and Imperial City and a surrounding Outer City. After this city was abandoned, all the remains were covered by grasslands and remained underground for several years, eventually being discovered through archeological explorations in 2008. 

Since then, over 1,000 buildings, 29 streets, and 700 foundations for construction have been found. It was observed that many attributes of the city, like the water drainage system, were pretty advanced during those times. The undergrounds covered by the grasslands also revealed several mosques, Christian churches, and Buddhist temples.

Many cultural relics were also discovered here through archeological excavations, like the white columns made of marble with dragon designs and colorful roof tiles. These remains showed high aesthetic standards, which is pretty surprising considering the time period in which they were put in place. 

Only a few minor repairs were carried out on the East City Wall and Mingde Gate located in the Imperial City. Apart from this, the beauty of this old capital's landscape and its geographical surroundings still remains intact with minimal structural intervention. 


Xanadu is the most well-preserved ancient capital in China, with long symmetrical streets, a towering city wall, numerous cultural relics, architectural wonders, and a vast spread of a thriving ecological environment. Several historians have even compared the site of Xanadu to the ancient city of Pompeii in Italy.

Xanadu is a vast square-shaped site encompassing a perimeter of about 5.6 miles. Instances of the traditional Han Chinese style of construction can be seen in the majority here.

This site is composed mainly of three separate regions: Imperial City, City Courtyard, and Outer City, which overlook the Longgang Mountains in the north and the Shangdu River in the south. You can also spot palace ruins here featuring Mongolian-style architecture, surrounded by a vast spread of Jinlian Chuan grasslands.

The City Courtyard, or the Palace City, is the most essential part of the site where emperors and empresses resided during the summer season.

It houses several prominent attractions, including Great Joy Palace, Crystal Palace, Great Peace Pavilion, Serenity and Solemnity Pavilion, a wall of bricks with a watchtower at each corner, and a central pool with diverted river water.

The City Courtyard is surrounded by the Imperial City, which shares a wall with the Outer City. South of the Imperial City houses the government offices, while the Qianyuan Temple and Longguang Temple are located in the northern part of the wall.

The Mingde Gate is the highlight of this area which is about 7m high, 24m in length, and 6m in width.

With captivating gardens in the north and multiple workshops in the south, the Outer City comprises the far end of the site of Xanadu. This area constitutes the residences of civilians and officials and is surrounded by moat ruins.

A Day's Trip to the Site of Xanadu


The site of Xanadu is located about 468 km from Beijing, and it takes about 8 hours to cover this path by road. It is located at a distance of 37 km from Duolon County and 27 km from Zhenglan Banner.

Unfortunately, no public transportation is available which connects either Duolon County or Zhenglan Banner to the site of Xanadu. This is why it is recommended that you arrange your own personal transport to visit this place.


If you are following Google Maps or any other online sources, it is better to search for 'Yuanshangdu Relic Site' instead of Xanadu. The Xanadu Sites Museum and the site of Xanadu are located about 7 km apart. You can generally plan to visit both of these places together in a day's visit.

Best Time to Visit

To enjoy the vast grasslands to the maximum, visit this place between June and September when the temperature is mild and comfortable.

What to See

Although this site is oozing with multiple historic monumental wonders, some of the attractions which must not be missed include Kublai Khan's Statue, Xanadu Ruins, Jinlianchuan Prairie, and the Xanadu Site Museum.


Q. What was the reason behind the destruction of the site of Xanadu?

A. In 1368, the Mongolians were banished from China. This resulted in a group of rebels who destroyed the site of Xanadu as a vengeful act.

Q. Why is the site of Xanadu so famous?

A. This has been a prominent place since the well-known conqueror Kublai Khan ruled here. It is famous for housing imperial gardens, palace ruins, and long waterways. This place gained popularity after the famous Venetian explorer Marco Polo described it in his book, 'The Travels of Marco Polo'.

Q. What happened to Kublai Khan eventually?

A. Kublai Khan started drinking and eating excess, which made him obese and worsened his gout symptoms. He eventually died at the age of 79 on 18 February 1294 and was buried in a secret site in Mongolia.

Q. What did Marco Polo do in Xanadu when he met Kublai Khan?

A. Marco Polo arrived at Kublai Khan's court with his uncle and presented him with the letters and privileges sent by the pope. They even handed over the highly prized holy oil to Kublai Khan. They stayed and served at Kublai Khan's court for a brief period and were given a higher honor than the court's barons.

Q. When can I visit the site of Xanadu?

A. You can visit the site of Xanadu between 08:00 to 17:00 on any day of the year for an entrance fee of CNY 50 per person.

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Written by Arpitha Rajendra

Bachelor of Engineering specializing in Aeronautical/Aerospace Technology, Master of Business Administration specializing in Management

Arpitha Rajendra picture

Arpitha RajendraBachelor of Engineering specializing in Aeronautical/Aerospace Technology, Master of Business Administration specializing in Management

With a background in Aeronautical Engineering and practical experience in various technical areas, Arpitha is a valuable member of the Kidadl content writing team. She did her Bachelor's degree in Engineering, specializing in Aeronautical Engineering, at Nitte Meenakshi Institute of Technology in 2020. Arpitha has honed her skills through her work with leading companies in Bangalore, where she contributed to several noteworthy projects, including the development of high-performance aircraft using morphing technology and the analysis of crack propagation using Abaqus XFEM.

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