Qaraqorm once stood magnificently at the heart of present-day Mongolia. Situated on the banks of the Orkhon River, Qaraqorm, the first permanent Mongol capital, was established by Ogodei Khan (r. 1227-41). Unlike Ogodei’s father Chinggis Khan; who believed that the roaming conqueror most also rule on the move, Ogodei did not follow his father’s nomadic concept of ruling. However gleamed from his choice in the site, Ogodei’s nomadic heritage was evident due to the sits’s geography. The site had access to water, but at a distance. The site had mountains, but they were useful only for the prosperous game that came down the mountain rather than protection. The site had land, but it was devoid of agricultural capability; for winter, there was no protection from the blistering cold. Although it was initially supposed to be a residence for Ogodei, his strong familial ties led him to raise the residential site to that of a city. In his quest to build the most beautiful residence in the world; to rival that of Baghdad, Ogodei sent for craftsmen and artisans.
Summoned from all over the Mongol conquered territory, craftsmen and artisans were brought in to build his city. The structures that comprised the city were tall with towering pillars. Silver and gold ornamentation, colorful paintings, and ornate wine cellars spoke to the wealth of the capital city. The bureaucracy lived permanently in the city, however, the royal family moved from pavilion and palace throughout the empire (Pavilions could be very large structures, large enough in some cases to hold up to 10,000 people). The bureaucracy needed to be residents of the city to act as scribes and translators for each new nation brought under the thriving empire. Although some construction started in c. 1220, not until 1235 was a mud wall built around the city.
The wall had four city gates and each was purposed to handle a different commercial activity. The east gate focused on the export and import of millet and grains. The west gate conducted the sheep and goat herds. The south gate catered to the cattle and wagons. The north gate held the horse bazaar. Also the city was divided into three quarters; the royal quarter, the Muslim quarter, and the Chinese quarter. Within the city walls a strong religious community began to thrive. The religions represented included Taoists, Buddhists, Christians and Muslims. The religious diversity of the city represented how expansive and encompassing the Mongol Empire was. The city was connected to the outlaying cities of Cathay through the use of yams; the Mongol form of a postal system. Yams became like relay stations. They stood as service stations for the weary travelers providing food, accommodation, and horses.
The city of Qaraqorm was gradually abandoned after the Persian and southern portion of the Sung Dynasty were defeated. The capital moved to the southern portions of the empire and Qaraqorm was left to decay.