10 April 2016

Genghis Khan Rides Again: Huge Statue of Emperor Dominates the Mongolian Steppe

Just over thirty miles east of the Mongolian capital of Ulan Bator the old Emperor, Genghis Khan, rides again.  Sat atop his horse, surveying his dominion (which was after his death to become the largest contiguous empire in history) a huge 131 feet statue of Genghis Khan dominates the steppes of Mongolia.

The sculpture, designed by D. Erdenebileg and architect J. Enkhjargal stands at the banks of the Tuul River.  It is here that the great emperor was said to have found a golden whip at the age of fifteen – though there is no exact evidence to support this.  It was, however, this whip that is said to have inspired the young Temujin (his birth name) to go on to conquer much of the known world.

Temujin was born in the middle of the twelfth century in Delüün Boldog close to Burkhan Khaldun mountain and the Onon and Kherlen rivers now in contemporary northern Mongolia.  It is in this eastern direction that the statue symbolically points.  Below the statue (seen above towards the end of its construction in 2008) is a museum, surrounded by 36 columns, one for each of the Khan dynasty of emperors.

Visitors to the statue can walk through the statue to the head of the horse (there is also a lift if you are not inclined to tackle the steps).  Here, cradled by the great man they can enjoy the panoramic views a statue of this size affords.  It came at something of a price too – the whole complex cost over $US4 million, which was spent by the Genco Tour Bureau, the company responsible for most of the tourism in Mongolia.

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Known locally as Chinggis Khaan, the statue is the latest (and largest) of a number of monuments which have risen to honor the founder of the Khan dynasty since the country relieved itself of communism in 1989.  The image of Chinggis Khaan is now everywhere in the country, the nineteenth largest but most sparsely populated country in the world.

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Mongolia, now an independent nation, is looking to effectively re-brand itself (and Khan) after centuries of foreign influence, being bordered by the behemoths of China and Russia.  Through projects such as this the Mongolian people are seeking to draw Genghis Khan not as a ferocious and merciless ruler who ordered the deaths of innumerable people but as something a little more palatable to contemporary sensitivities.

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However impossible it is to treat the ‘Universal Ruler’ (as his name translates) as a simple and straightforward national hero, the statue comprehensively ignores any such gradation. There is little room for shade and tone here.  Genghis Khan is portrayed very much as the brilliant military strategist, who joined warring tribes together in order to establish the world’s biggest empire ever.  One thing is for sure - he is magnificent.

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First Image Credit Massimo.Botelli