KARAKORUM (Turkish, “black stone débris”), the name of two cities in Mongolia. One of these, according to G. Potanin, was the capital of the Uighur kingdom in the 8th century, and the other was in the 13th century a capital of the steppe monarchy of Mongolia. The same name seems also to have been applied to the Khangai range at the headwaters of the Orkhon. (1) The Uighur Karakorum, also named Mubalik (“bad town”), was situated on the left bank of the Orkhon, in the Talal-khain-dala steppe, to the south-east of Ughei-nor. It was deserted after the fall of the Uighur kingdom, and in the 10th century Abaki, the founder of the Khitan kingdom, planted on its ruins a stone bearing a description of his victories. (2) The Mongolian Karakorum was founded at the birth of the Mongolian monarchy established by Jenghiz Khan. A palace for the khan was built in it by Chinese architects in 1234, and its walls were erected in 1235. Plano Carpini visited it in 1246, Rubruquis in 1253, and Marco Polo in 1275. Later, the fourth Mongolian king, Kublai, left Karakorum, in order to reside at Kai-pin-fu, near Peking. When the khan Arik-bog declared himself and Karakorum independent of Kublai-Khan, the latter besieged Karakorum, took it by famine, and probably laid it waste so thoroughly that the town was afterwards forgotten.
The exact sites of the two Mongolian capitals were only established in 1889–1891. Sir H. Yule (The Book of Marco Polo, 1871) was the first to distinguish two cities of this name. The Russian traveller Paderin in 1871 visited the Uighur capital (see Turks), named now by the Mongols Kara Balghasun (“black city”) or Khara-kherem (“black wall”), of which only the wall and a tower are in existence, while the streets and ruins outside the wall are seen at a distance of 13 m. Paderin’s belief that this was the old Mongol capital has been shown to be incorrect. As to the Mongolian Karakorum, it is identified by several authorities with a site on which towards the close of the 16th century the Buddhist monastery of Erdeni Tsu was built. This monastery lies about 25 m. south by east of the Uighur capital. North and north-east of the monastery are ruins of ancient buildings. Professor D. Pozdnéev, who visited Erdeni Tsu for a second time in 1892, stated that the earthen wall surrounding the monastery might well be part of the wall of the old city. The proper position of the two Karakorums was determined by the expedition of N. Yadrintsev in 1889, and the two expeditions of the Helsingfors Ugro-Finnish society (1890) and the Russian academy of science, under Dr W. Radlov (1891), which were sent out to study Yadrintsev’s discovery.
See Works (Trudy) of the Orkhon Expedition (St Petersburg, 1892); Yule’s Marco Polo, edition revised by Henri Cordier (of Paris), vol. i. ch. xlvi. (London, 1903). Cordier confines the use of Karakorum to the Mongol capital; Pozdnéev, Mongolia and the Mongols, vol. i. (St Petersburg, 1896); C. W. Campbell, “Journeys in Mongolia,” Geog. Journ. vol. xx. (1903), with map. Campbell’s report was printed as a parliamentary paper (China No. 1, 1904).