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Unearthed Discoveries of the Year 2012
Special> Unearthed Discoveries of the Year 2012
UPDATED: August 27, 2012 NO. 35 AUGUST 30, 2012
A Place of Legends
China's Xanadu joins the World Heritage List
By Yu Yan

Global imprints


GETTING HONOR: The 36th session of UNESCO's World Heritage Committee agrees to add Xanadu onto the World Heritage List in St. Petersburg, Russia, on June 29, 2012 (LU JINBO) 

"Xanadu is closely tied to The Travels of Marco Polo, a book which inspired Christopher Columbus, a great navigator, to complete four voyages which eventually led to the discovery of the American continents. As the prototype of the fantasy garden described by British poet Coleridge, it produced a profound influence on the world's culture, music and architecture," said Tong.

The Venetian merchant and traveler Marco Polo (1254-1324) came to China in 1275. He gained an audience with Kublai Khan in the palace of Xanadu. When he returned to Italy 17 years later, he told the tale of his adventures in his book The Travels of Marco Polo. The book introduced the Chinese city to Europeans, telling of a large and wealthy capital with excellent transportation facilities and magnificent palaces.

In 1797, Coleridge wrote his famous poem Kubla Khan, which was inspired by a dream he had after reading The Travels of Marco Polo. The poem was later published in 1816. Since then, it has inspired many European people to visit the city.

They christened the city composed of palaces, steppes, forests and rivers as "Xanadu" in reference to the poem. Even today, Europeans still use the word to describe mysterious and beautiful places. Webster's New World College Dictionary defines Xanadu as "any luxurious or exotic mansion, estate, etc."

In addition to its widespread cultural influence as the first capital city of the Yuan Empire, Xanadu also played a major role in scientific and technological exchanges between the East and the West.

During its reign as the capital city, three of China's four great inventions—the compass, gunpowder and movable type printing—were spread to Europe. Around the same time, West Asia and Europe's mathematics, astronomy, religion, art and medicine entered China.

Astronomers from West Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East came to Xanadu and were warmly received by Kublai Khan. Under the leadership of the famous astronomer Jamal al-Din, they invented the world's most advanced astronomical instruments. They also compiled a national geographical book and made a color map of China.

Thus, Xanadu became a center of research in Arabic astronomy and calendar systems in the 13th -14th centuries China, which elevated traditional Chinese astronomy and calendar systems to a higher level.

Protection efforts

Following the site's entry into UNESCO's World Heritage List, preservation work has been strengthened as officials of Inner Mongolia move to implement protection measures to ensure the integrity of the site.

The local government has vowed to provide the highest level of protection and management in accordance with the World Heritage Convention and Chinese cultural relic protection laws. A video monitoring network has been installed around the area. Next to the site, a meteorological observatory station has been built with the purpose of monitoring environmental changes.

Providing quality service to visitors is a top priority for site managers. More archaeological explorations and excavations are currently underway, but visitors can visit areas where such work has already taken place.

History and travel enthusiasts can look forward to more exchanges that will be carried out by international archaeology and heritage conservation institutions.

Email us at: yuyan@bjreview.com

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