Ulaanbaatar (also spelt Ulan Bator) is the capital and the largest city of the Republic of Mongolia. It is on the Tuul River at the foot of the mountain Bogdo Khan Uul which rises 3000 ft. above the capital. The city is dominated by communist style highrise apartment buildings. Ulaanbaatar is Mongolia’s commercial, political, cultural and transportation centre. Accounting for 50% of Mongolia’s industry production the city is 10 times the size of the country’s second largest city. Ulaanbaatar has the country’s only university, founded in 1942.
The city was founded in 1639 as a centre for Mongolian Lamaism by lord of the Khakha Tribe, Tusheey Khaan Gombodorj. The city was then called Urga. In 1706, it changed name to Ikh Khuree (Big Monastery). In the 1860s the town flourished as a commercial centre on the tea route between China and Russia. In 1911, Mongolia became independent from China and the city changed its name to Niislel Khureheh (Capital of Mongolia). During the Russian civil war, the city was the headquarters of the White Army of Baron von Ungern-Sternberg. In 1921 the city was occupied by Mongolian revolutionary troops, led by Damdiny Sühbaatar, and the Soviet Red Army. In 1924, the Mongolian People’s Public was declared, and Mongolia became the world’s second communist country. Niislel Khureheh became capital under the name Ulaanbaatar (Red Hero), and aid from the Soviet Government helped to develop the city. Mongolian communism remained fairly independent of Moscow until Stalin gained absolute power in the late 1920s. This led to Soviet totalitarianism with a particularly ruthless campaign against religion. In 1937, Stalinist purges destroyed many monasteries in Ulaanbaatar and monks were executed. As communism fell, the city grew rapidly in the early 1990s, thanks to the introduction of capitalism and privatization.
Industries include woollen textiles, leather products, paper, cement, glassware and processed foods. The city is the centre point for Mongolia’s road network and caravan routes. It has an international airport and is on the Trans-Siberian Rail Road linking China with Russia. It is illegal to cross into Mongolia by car or bus. Entry and exit visas are required by all nationalities. According to a World Health Organization report published in Sept. 2001 Ulaanbaatar is the second most polluted city in the world and the most polluted capital.
Places of Interest
The centre of Ulaanbaatar is the Sühbaatar Square which is flanked by the State Parliament House and the Palace of Culture (containing the Mongolian Art Gallery). The largest museum is the Museum of Natural History, which exhibits Mongolia’s geography, flora and fauna and recent Mongolian history. The Zanabazar Museum of Fine Arts has paintings, carvings and sculptures, many by the artist and Buddhist, Zanabazar. It also shows rare religious items, such as cloth paintings and Buddhist statues. The Ulaanbaatar State Public Library has a collection of eleventh century Sanskrit manuscript. One of the monasteries that survived the Stalinist purges is the Gandantegchinlen Khiid (The Great Place of Joy), which has several temples decorated with gold and jewels. The Gandan monastery is the most important Lama shrine in Mongolia. The Winter Palace of Bogd Khaan (built between 1893 and 1903) was the residence of Mongolia’s 8th Bogd Khaan (Living Buddha) and last king who died in 1924. In the grounds of the palace there are 6 temples containing gifts to the Bogd Khaan.