Where Was Xanadu?

Xanadu became a mythical place of Oriental opulence and pleasure in European imagination
Romantic Xanadu, as portrayed in Samuel Coleridge Taylor's poem Kubla Khan, rather than the real historic city of Shang-du. Eric Meola / Getty Images

Xanadu was the summer capital of China's Yuan Dynasty after 1264, located in Inner Mongolia near the modern city of Duolun.  At the time, China and Mongolia were united under Mongol rule.

The first Yuan emperor, Kublai Khan, established Beijing (then known as Dadu) as the capital of his empire. For the hot, humid summer months, however, he preferred to be closer to the plains of his native Mongolia.

Thus, his summer capital moved to Xanadu, previously called Kai Ping.

More properly, Xanadu was known as Shangdu or "Upper Capital"; the western world first learned of it through the account by famed Italian explorer Marco Polo of his visit to the city in 1275. Another European who wrote about the fabled city was Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who portrayed it as the essence of Oriental mystery and wealth in his poem Kubla Khan, published in 1816.

Pronunciation: "ZAN-uh-doo"

Also Known As: Shangdu, Shangtu, Kai Ping


Coleridge's poem opens with the famous line: "In Xanadu did Kubla Khan / A stately pleasure-dome decree."