Chinese Archaeologists May Have Solved the Mystery of the Lost Palace of Kublai Khan

Chinese Archaeologists May Have Solved the Mystery of the Lost Palace of Kublai Khan

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Last month, archaeologists found a hint of an amazing discovery while excavating in the Forbidden City in China. While the researchers were somewhat hesitant then to confirm the finding of Kublai Khan’s imperial palace, they now have further evidence supporting the idea that they have found the famous lost domain of the powerful ruler.

According to Marco Polo, Kublai Khan’s palace was “the greatest palace that ever was.” In his travel journal he wrote, “The palace was made of cane supported by 200 silk cords, which could be taken to pieces and transported easily when the emperor moved.” The walls were described on South China Morning Post (SCMP) as “covered with gold and silver and the main hall was so large that it could easily seat 6,000 people for dinner.”

A painting of Shizu, better known as Kublai Khan, as he would have appeared in the 1260s (this painting is a posthumous one.)

A painting of Shizu, better known as Kublai Khan, as he would have appeared in the 1260s (this painting is a posthumous one.) Source: Public Domain

Kublai Khan was one of China’s most famous rulers and he has been regarded by many to have been a wise ruler as well. He was the grandson of Genghis Khan, the founder of the Mongol Empire. In his own right, Kublai Khan is remembered for having established the Yuan Dynasty. Although, this emperor has held an important place in history, the South China Morning Post reports that his palace’s location has been an ongoing mystery.

Statue of Kublai Khan.

Statue of Kublai Khan. ( CC BY 2.0 )

That mystery may be closer to a conclusion thanks to the team excavating in Beijing’s Forbidden City. The researchers from the Palace museum’s Institute of Archaeology’s main proof comes in the form of a “3 meter [9.84 ft.] thick rammed earth and rubble foundation buried beneath the layers of Ming and Qing dynasty construction.” (Via South China Morning Post) This size of this feature was apparently strange for a Yuan building, but “it could have been used to support a palatial hall.”

The institute deputy director Wang Guangyao told the South China Morning Post that the foundation discovered at the palace is similar to one that was found in the ruins of Zhongdu – “one of the four capitals of the Yuan dynasty.” Furthermore, the director noted that some of the debris in the Yuan foundation dates back to older dynasties, such as the Liao (907–1125) and Jin (1115–1234).

The Yuan foundation has rubble that dates to earlier dynasties.

The Yuan foundation has rubble that dates to earlier dynasties. ( Simon Song )

Nonetheless, Wang Guangyao remains cautious about the discovery of the foundation and said “From a historical perspective, it gives us evidence that the architectural history runs uninterrupted from the Yuan, to the Ming and Qing dynasties […] as archaeologists, we can only define what we have found, but it gives us a direction for future exploration.”

As Ancient Origins reported in May, there will be no large-scale excavations accompanying this discovery. Wang said: “Even if we think a certain site is important for an archaeological finding, we can’t just dig the ground up because it is not allowed. All we can do is to wait and collect as much evidence as we can until sometime later, probably in a generation or two, work is done in those places and we can put all the finds together to see if they are all connected.”

There are, however, plans to make the new discovery visible to visitors to the Forbidden City in the near future.

Forbidden City (Beijing, China)

Forbidden City (Beijing, China) (Michael McDonough/ CC BY NC ND 2.0 )

Top Image: Palace Museum Institute of Archaeology deputy director Wang Guangyao at the excavation site. Photo: Simon Song

By Alicia McDermott


visit to forbidden city was interesting but after buying entry ticket and before i could actually walk into the place i waws swarmed by people trying to sell me trinkets etc. i appreciated being able to wander about without much bother of a guide or other means of herding about. i could take my time and view everything nicely, revisiting any certain displays as i saw fit to achieve further understanding. the forbidden city and the long wall both had pathways and stone thresholds that were well worn by foot traffic over the millennia and now my footsteps were also recorded there! i guess the khan pallace is not much to see but the added information is great for the long list included in the forbidden city... thank you for the article

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