Imperial Map Monument – Harhorin, Mongolia - Atlas Obscura

Imperial Map Monument

Harhorin, Mongolia

History, geography, and shamanism meet in this eye-catching monument to the greatness of three empires. 


Imperial Map Monument commemorates the three empires that settled on the shore of the nearby Orkhon River. Also known as King’s Monument and Monument for the Mongol States, it was built in 2004 on a hill overlooking the town of Kharkhorin.  

The monument consists of a large pile of stones (a shamanic ovoo) carefully assembled in the shape of a cone, approximately the same size as a tepee, with nine poles protruding from the top. This structure is mounted on a stone-and-concrete platform, and it is surrounded by three walls representing three sections of a circle. The outer sides of these walls feature three colorful mosaics depicting three maps, one for each of the empires.

First, there was the Xiongnu Empire, a confederation of nomadic tribes living in the steppes from around the 3rd century BCE to the 1st century CE. The Turkic Khaganate Empire followed, established by the Göktürks in 682 and lasting only until 744. Finally, and famously, Genghis Khan founded the Mongol Empire of the 13th and 14th centuries.

The Mongol Empire’s iconic place in the culture, combined with the shamanic symbolism of the ovoo in the center of the monument, entice people to leave offerings of vodka, milk, tea, rice, and other edible titbits that inevitably attract birds and the occasional herd of goats and sheep passing by. Several animal skulls can also be found around the monument, completing the surreal scene.

It is no coincidence that the Imperial Map Monument is located in Kharkhorin, as this town (then called Karakorum) was the capital of the Mongol Empire under Genghis Khan’s successor, Ögedei. Imperial Map Monument is a great vantage point to take in the modern town of Kharkhorin and the Orkhon River, and picture what this collection of dirt roads and low-rise buildings may have looked like in its glory days.

Know Before You Go

The monument is on the east side of the Orkhon River. It's a roughly 10-minute drive from the more easily located Erdene Zuu Monastery.

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August 28, 2018

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