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What is Xanadu?

Diana Bocco
Updated May 23, 2024
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Xanadu, also known as Zanadu or Shengdu, is a mythical place that is rooted in an actual area of Inner Mongolia. Xanadu became popular as the legendary place mentioned in Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem as the place where Kublai Khan built a giant dome to indulge his every fantasy. The place was believed to be mythical until the ruins were discovered 270 km (168 miles) north of Beijing and near Dolonnuur city, at the end of the 20th Century. Xanadu is now believed to have been the capital of Kublai Khan's Empire, which was founded sometime in the 13th century.

Xanadu is now little more than a vast green field extending for hundreds of kilometers. From the air, the outlines of former buildings can still be seen, but once on the ground, only the sketch of the outer wall that protected the city is now visible, and only if you are truly looking for it. The outline of the wall is covered in grass and soil for most of its length, and it can be easily confused with a small hill. There is now a low wall of stone that marks the area where Kublai Khan's palace was situated. The low wall is actually a reconstruction. Archeologists used stones and bricks scattered in the area to put together a replica of the palace foundations, which where were destroyed over 600 years ago. The original palace was about 550 square meters and occupied the center of the city.

Aside from the wall, little has remained of the magical place historians believe Xanadu to have been. Local museums hold an iron kettle, and drawings and photographs which show the remains of tombs and small marble sculptures. Historians also believe they have identified a primitive irrigation system that was used in the area, and believe a sacrificial altar was also in place in Xanadu.

Xanadu is now a tourist area, although the truth is that very few visitors reach the area every year. The government has plan for rebuilding a replica of the original Xanadu, but it will probably not stand in the place of the original city.

Language & Humanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Diana Bocco
By Diana Bocco
Diana Bocco, a versatile writer with a distinct voice, creates compelling long-form and short-form content for various businesses. With a data-focused approach and a talent for sharing engaging stories, Diana’s written work gets noticed and drives results.
Discussion Comments
By Rotergirl — On Nov 07, 2014

"Xanadu" was also the name of one of the worst movies of 1980. I love Gene Kelly. What the heck was he doing in that disaster, anyway? The pay must have been astronomical.

The stately pleasure dome in the movie was a massive disco roller rink! How times have changed.

I remember reading this poem in high school and kind of thinking, "What am the point?" But I was never really a Coleridge fan, anyway. I was always more fond of Keats and Byron. And Blake. I love William Blake. Be that as it may, even though I analyzed the poem well enough to satisfy my instructor, I never really made a great deal of sense of it.

By Pippinwhite — On Nov 06, 2014

Leave it to an English major to start reciting the first lines of the Coleridge poem when she sees the article's title.

This is one of the sites I'd like to see if I ever get to visit China. I'd also like to visit all the museums to see the artifacts recovered from the digs there, and to see the outline of the city from the air.

I guess you could say a trip to China would be on my bucket list. But I want to see a lot of the historical sites, not just the touristy stuff. I'll save that for Hong Kong, although I know there's a lot of history to be found there, too.

Diana Bocco
Diana Bocco
Diana Bocco, a versatile writer with a distinct voice, creates compelling long-form and short-form content for various...
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