#AtoZChallenge: April 27, 2013 ~ Xanadu


In Xanadu did Kubla Khan

A stately pleasure-dome decree :

Where Alph, the sacred river, ran

Through caverns measureless to man

Down to a sunless sea.

~ Samuel Taylor Coleridge


Xanadu (here called Ciandu, as Marco Polo spelled it) on the French map of Asia made by Sanson d’Abbeville, geographer of King Louis XIV, dated 1650. It was northeast of Cambalu, or modern-day Beijing.

Xanadu, or Shangdu, was the summer capital of Kublai Khan, Mongol emperor of the 13th century AD, and founder of the Yuan Dynasty of China.  His empire reached from the Pacific to the Black Sea, from Siberia to Afghanistan, covering one fifth of the world’s inhabited land area at the time. He founded Dadu (now Beijing) in 1272.

He himself is quoted in Marco Polo’s  account of his travels (1275-1292) to China, and his summer gardens in Xanadu are the subject of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s 1797 poem Kubla Khan.

“And when you have ridden three days from the city last mentioned, between north-east and north, you come to a city called Chandu, which was built by the Khan now reigning. There is at this place a very fine marble palace, the rooms of which are all gilt and painted with figures of men and beasts and birds, and with a variety of trees and flowers, all executed with such exquisite art that you regard them with delight and astonishment.

Round this Palace a wall is built, inclosing a compass of 16 miles, and inside the Park there are fountains and rivers and brooks, and beautiful meadows, with all kinds of wild animals (excluding such as are of ferocious nature), which the Emperor has procured and placed there to supply food for his gerfalcons and hawks, which he keeps there in mew. Of these there are more than 200 gerfalcons alone, without reckoning the other hawks. The Khan himself goes every week to see his birds sitting in mew, and sometimes he rides through the park with a leopard behind him on his horse’s croup; and then if he sees any animal that takes his fancy, he slips his leopard at it, and the game when taken is made over to feed the hawks in mew. This he does for diversion.

Moreover [at a spot in the Park where there is a charming wood] he has another Palace built of cane, of which I must give you a description. It is gilt all over, and most elaborately finished inside. [It is stayed on gilt and lacquered columns, on each of which is a dragon all gilt, the tail of which is attached to the column whilst the head supports the architrave, and the claws likewise are stretched out right and left to support the architrave.] The roof, like the rest, is formed of canes, covered with a varnish so strong and excellent that no amount of rain will rot them. These canes are a good 3 palms in girth, and from 10 to 15 paces in length. [They are cut across at each knot, and then the pieces are split so as to form from each two hollow tiles, and with these the house is roofed; only every such tile of cane has to be nailed down to prevent the wind from lifting it.] In short, the whole Palace is built of these canes, which (I may mention) serve also for a great variety of other useful purposes. The construction of the Palace is so devised that it can be taken down and put up again with great celerity; and it can all be taken to pieces and removed whithersoever the Emperor may command. When erected, it is braced [against mishaps from the wind] by more than 200 cords of silk.

The Khan abides at this Park of his, dwelling sometimes in the Marble Palace and sometimes in the Cane Palace for three months of the year, to wit, June, July and August; preferring this residence because it is by no means hot; in fact it is a very cool place. When the 28th day of [the Moon of] August arrives he takes his departure, and the Cane Palace is taken to pieces. But I must tell you what happens when he goes away from this Palace every year on the 28th of the August [Moon].” ~ Marco Polo (1298)

5 thoughts on “#AtoZChallenge: April 27, 2013 ~ Xanadu

  1. My mother won prizes for history when she was at school over and over again. I was quite the opposite. History and I just did not get along. I could not remember dates, places or people to save my life. I’ve learnt more from your blog in this A-Z challenge than I ever did at school. You’re a champion my friend 🙂


  2. I’m so glad you wrote on Xanadu / as a place it always had such a magical name. I could imagine a world of unicorns and golden rivers and such a place – yes I am a dreamer

    smiles my friend


  3. I’ve always loved Coleridge’s poem (especially read aloud), but I hadn’t done the digging to unearth all the information you’re sharing. Thank you, Honoré!


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