Capital Cities & Commerce
As a nomad, Genghis Khan had no use for cities, but his successor Ögödei decided the Mongols needed a base from which to administer their widespread empire and entertain foreigners. Ögödei established Karakorum as his new capital, patterning it after other walled cities like those destroyed by his father.
Despite its great distance from the Silk Road, Karakorum became an international center of politics and commerce, hosting ambassadors, traders, and artisans from China, the Middle East, Russia, and Western Europe. And true to Genghis Khan’s legacy, the city welcomed all religions.
When Kublai took the throne and conquered the remainder of China, he embraced Chinese culture, moving his winter capital to Beijing and his summer capital to Shangdu (Xanadu). But he kept Mongol tradition by supporting all religions, encouraging the arts and sciences, and fostering diplomatic relations.
Marco Polo, the Venetian courier to Kublai’s court for two decades, provided an account of the Mongol Empire to Europeans that stimulated interest in and trade with the Far East long after the fall of the dynasty. Mongol policies, diplomacy, and other traditions continue to impact our world today.