The National Museum told Xinhua News Agency yesterday that aerial photography has helped shed new light on Shangdu, the capital of Kublai Khan's empire that was known to Marco Polo as Xanadu.
His description of the city in The Travels of Marco Polo 700 years ago has been partly backed by the work, Yang Lin, director of the museum's center of remote sensing and aerial photography. "We can see the spectacular city with its scale and the density of buildings."
The ruins have been overgrown for more than 600 years, but archaeologists took a large number of photos of the site in Zhenglan Banner in north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region over recent years from planes flying at low altitudes.
Yang said that by examining the photos, archaeologists can tell the shape of the ancient site and where relics are located.
Shangdu was built in 1256 under the command of Kublai Khan who was enthroned there four years later. It became a summer resort after the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368) moved its capital to present-day Beijing and was destroyed during a peasant war at the end of the dynasty.
According to Marco Polo, there were palaces made of marble in the city, with rooms gilded and painted.
"Since the capital has been dilapidated for many years, we were not clear about its layout. And because it is located in vast grassland, the inconvenient conditions make it difficult to conduct archaeological research in usual ways," said Yang.
The photos show that the city was square with three concentric city walls. The outer wall was surrounded by a moat of 20 meters wide.
Inside the city, archaeologists said that they can discern remains of barns, barracks and horse stables, and remains of a flood prevention dam have been identified about two kilometers north and west of the city.
Marco Polo claimed that a wide road connected Shangdu and Dadu (today's Beijing), and that along the road shops and merchants could be found everywhere.
Yang said the aerial photos do show remains of a wide road running south of the city from west to east and leading into the grassland.
(Xinhua News Agency October 9, 2005)