Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Mongolia’s Capital of Ulaanbaatar is a city whose history is written in its landscape, architecture and people. Located at 1,350 m (4,430 ft) above sea level and close to the river Tuul, Ulaanbaatar looks out onto the wilderness of the southern steppe, flanked by the forested Bogd Khan Uul mountain to the north, one of the world’s oldest natural reserves. Housing 1.3 million people, Ulaanbaatar comprises nearly half the sparsely populated nation’s people, making it Mongolia’s cultural, political and economic hub.

A decorated building in Winter Palace of the Bogd Khan. Ulaanbaatar. Mongolia.

Settlement and History

The long nomadic traditions of the Mongolian people are reflected in the founding of its capital, which traces its origins back to the establishment of a yurt Buddhist monastery in an area near the old imperial capital of Karakorum around 1639. The monastery moved from place to place over the years, though as the population began to grow it came to move less frequently until settling in its present-day location around 1778. Despite enduring a long history of Chinese occupation under the Qing dynasty, the nomadic Mongolian region did enjoy a level of autonomy that allowed them to retain their culture and traditions over the years. Following the 1727 Treaty of Kyakhta, the region even experienced a level of prosperity as a trade thoroughfare between China and the Russian Empire, facilitating the flow of goods such as furs, cloth and tea. Chinese occupation persisted until Mongolia declared independence in 1911 following the collapse of the Qing Empire, though this independence was short lived, with occupation changing hands multiple times in the post-independence period between Chinese, Tsarist and Soviet forces. The name of the capital Ulaanbaatar, meaning ‘Red Hero’ was chosen in 1924 over the popular alternative ‘Baatar Khot, or ‘Hero City’, marking a period of history influenced heavily by the Soviet Union, which came to succeed the Qing for most of the 20th century, establishing a Mongolian satellite state that remained until 1990.

Modern Ulaanbaatar

Today Ulaanbaatar city bears the marks of both its history and vital present, with its functionalist 1960’s Soviet style architecture being the most visible reminder of its recent past. The discovery of $1.3 trillion in mineral reserves has sparked a boom in recent years, drawing thousands of Mongolians and foreigners alike to Ulaanbaatar in movement reminiscent of a gold rush. Alongside this influx of people has been a revitalization of the city centre, now sporting many of the amenities and luxury retail chains reminiscent of other large urban capitals.

Ulan Bator (Ulaanbaatar) is the capital, and largest city in Mongolia.

Sightseeing and Local Attractions

If you’re visiting Mongolia one of the most interesting times of year is during the Naadam festival, which comes around annually from the 11-15 of July. Nadaam is a national festival which showcases a series of three main events, being traditional wrestling, horseback riding and archery, the event attracts people from all over the region and is the busiest and most exciting time of the year to experience Ulaanbaatar. While you’re there you may want to check out Sühbaatar Square, this is the central plaza of the city featuring statues of Genghis, Ögedei and Kublai Khan, as well as the government palace, national theatre and national museum. Other popular destinations for a city tour include the Gandantegchinlen buddhist temple, the Winter Palace of the Bogd Khan, Gorkhi-Terelj National Park or the statue of Genghis Khan roughly 50km east of the Capital, where according to legend the Khan found a golden whip. If you’re interested in discovering more about Central Asia, you might consider hopping on a train along the Trans-Mongolian railway, these journeys offer beautiful views of the scenery and landscapes stretching from the desert to the steppe. It is important to note that the Capital of Mongolia is the coldest in the world, with a yearly average 0.4 C (31.3 F) so remember to pack accordingly, with this in mind it is best to avoid the winter months as the average temperature of -24.5 C (-12.5 F) is not for the faint of heart.

Genghis Khan statue at Chinggis Square (Sukhbaatar Square) in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

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