Kharkhorum, the capital city of the Mongolian Empire in the thirteenth century, remains in ruins today. However, of history we know it was a beautiful city at its prosperity. There is a saying “one, who does not know the past history, looks like a monkey lost in a forest.”
The Orkhon river valley (some 360 km southwest of Ulaanbaatar), inseparably linked with Kharkhorum, keeps attracting the interests of not only the Mongolians, also foreigners due to its combination of grassland nomadic culture with remains of ancient urban, centralized or highly socially structured societies, strong religious evidence, and where above all these remains are of national and international importance.
It is very interesting to find out preference of our ancestors to have Kharkhorum in the Orkhon valley, representing the middle of mountainous plains, steppe and desert- steppe, instead of the forest region in the north, or Gobi region in the south. The choice was not accidental. To identify the reasons, we have to look back at history.
Mongolia is considered to be one of the cradles of first human beings. Many scholars are of the opinion that the choice was not accidental as the nomadic civilization originated and being developed around the localities of Khangai mountain ranges, Orkhon river valley and areas surrounding the present Kharkhorum. This process continued until erection of Erdenezuu monastery survived to the present day from the xiongnu era.
In the 3rd century B.C., the xiongnu people, who were the ancient ancestors of Mongolians, constructed Shanyu Khaan's palace on the Orkhon River and created the first powerful state of nomads with its capital city located on the site of the present Kharkhorum. The history develops from here onward.
The Khaan's palace of Xianbi state (Syanbi), the successor of the xiongnu was also in the Orkhon valley. Similarly, the capital city of Nyrun state was located near Kharkhorum. The Nyrun followed by Turkics who created a powerful empire. Their capital city and Khaan's palace were located again in the vicinity of Kharkhorum and Orkhon valley.
In the 8th century Uighurs erected two twin cities: Kharakhorum and Khar Balgas in the Orkhon valley. Khirghis Khaan Chen Minh, the successor of Uighurs used to stay at Khar Balgas. Khar Balgas is located 25 km away from Kharakhorum. There are ruins of some other cities of the Kidan Empire.
Later Kereyid Ong Khaan preferred to have his palace at Kharkhorum and ruled his state from here.
However, Chinggis Khaan established a great Mongolian Empire in 1206 by uniting all the people of felt walls into a single Mongolian nation. Kharkhorum was made the capital city instead of Avarga.
Much later in 1586, Erdenezuu Monastery, the Buddhist center began to be built exactly on this site.
Of an interest is that the Syanbi from somewhere, Jujuan from a distant Gobi, Turkics from far south side of Altai Mountain and Uighurs from the Selenge river estuary beyond Lake Baikal moved to the Orkhon valley, and created their empires and established their capital city, taking turns.
The area has been the focus for settlements since early years, not only because of its beautiful landscape. There are many picturesque places all over Mongolia.
Therefore, there might be another reason for the Xiongnu, Syanbi, Nyrun, Turkics, Uighurs, Khirghis, Kidans and Kereyids to move to the Orkhon valley.
Some scholars put forward an interesting hypothesis that the Orkhon valley has been the center of Mongolia obtaining energy from the earth core. According to Batsuuri's study who is a biological doctor, this area represents the geological genetic center of Mongolia. Thus, any empire settled there obtained energy to achieve unity and prosperity.
It could be the perception of our ancestors who continuously occupied the Orkhon valley, having khaans and lords residential palaces in its vicinity, alternatively replacing one empire by another for many hundreds of years.
As for the city name, it has been pronounced differently like Kharakhorum and Kharkhorum and the present Kharkhorin. Kharkhorum reminds us the ancient capital city, whereas Kharhorin means one of the soums of today's Uverkhangai aimag.
Scholars have researched into the origin of this word individually. The majority of them believe it to be the name of the capital city of the Uighur Empire. Some historians perceive that the word originated from the names of surrounding mountains and rivers. This name “Kharkhorum” became known to the Europe in 1246 for the first time. The history book of Yuan dynasty called it as Black Forest because of the black forest and mountains in its west. The ancient Turkic dictionary recorded as Khara (or Black) Khorum. The word has been used in folk oral literature by some people as Khar Khuree.
Kharkhorum has been mentioned in notes of ambassadors and travelers visited Mongolia at this time. The French monk William Rubruck (ca. 1210-ca. 1270) left the most detailed note. From the note, it has become clear that the city was named as Khara Khorum since its foundation in the 8th century.
However, with Chinggis Khaan's occupation of the city, it was named as Kharkhorum. The name reflected the features of surroundings abundant in black rocks, mountains, rivers and forests. The detailed studies have illustrated that the word Kharkhorum originated from a Mongolian word “Khar Khurem”. The Turkish word “Khara Khorum” means in Mongolian “Khar Khurem”. Thus, the name has been Khar Khurem, not Kharkhorum. Many scholars have proved it.
Chinggis Khaan was unable to stay in Kharkhorum due to great wars. However, Ogodei Khaan rebuilt the capital city in 1228-1235 according to the will of Chinggis Khaan, and established it as the capital city. His successors Guyug Khaan and Munk Khaan also announced it to be the capital city of the Mongolian Empire.
At present, the government of Mongolia is planning to turn Kharkhorin into an exemplary city. This could be the beginnings to the revival of an ancient city. We hope the project can be achievable.