The Reconstructed 13th Century Capital City of The Golden Horde
- 10 months ago
The ancient city of Sarai Batu was located on the lower stretch of the Volga River, about 120 km north of the modern city of Astrakhan in present-day Russia.
It was the capital of the Golden Horde, the western part of the Mongol empire, which flourished from the mid-13th century to the end of the 14th century. At its peak, the territory of the Golden Horde included most of Eastern Europe from the Urals to the Danube River, and extended east deep into Siberia. On the south the Horde’s lands bordered on the Black Sea, the Caucasus Mountains, and the Iranian territories of the Mongol dynasty known as the Il-Khans.
Sarai Batu (meaning “Batu’s Palace”) was established in the mid-1240s by the Mongol ruler Batu Khan, the grandson of Genghis Khan. At that time, it was quite a large settlement with a population of 75,000, making it one of the largest cities of the medieval world.
One 13th century Arab traveller from North Africa described it “as one of the most beautiful cities, one which has achieved extraordinary size, filled to overflowing with people, handsome markets and broad streets”. The traveller counted thirteen large mosques and thirteen cathedrals, numerous bazaars and bath-houses. Its population was multi-cultural. In addition to Mongol rulers, he saw Russians, Caucasians and many 'merchants and strangers' from as far afield as Iraq, Egypt, Syria and Greece, each nation living in its own quarter.
In the 14th century, for reasons unknown, the city was abandoned and the capital was moved to a new location about 180 km northwest of Sarai Batu. The new city became Sarai Berke or “New Sarai”.
A city as large as Sarai naturally attracted enemies. Both the old and the new capitals were sacked by the Crimean Khanate in late 14th and early 16th century. The city was eventually destroyed by Ivan IV of Russia in 1556.
This once beautiful city now lives again through the sets of the 2011 movie "The Horde". For filming the historical drama, a Russian production company built an elaborate replica of Sarai Batu. The filming location was chosen very near the actual historic site. After production was over, instead of dismantling the movie sets, the reconstructed capital was turned into a tourist attraction. Although the houses and other structures on the set appears to have been made of clay, it’s actually made of wood and concrete. The clay layer was added only in the exterior.
Today, the location has developed into a sort of open air museum.