June 22, 2014

1110 MONGOLIA (Övörkhangai) - Orkhon Valley Cultural Landscape - Erdene Zuu Monastery (UNESCO WHS)

For many centuries, the Orkhon Valley, located in Central Mongolia, some 320 km west from the capital Ulan Bator, was viewed as the seat of the imperial power of the steppes. The first evidence comes from a stone stele with runic inscriptions, which was erected in the valley by Bilge Khan, an 8th-century ruler of the Göktürk Empire. Some 25 miles to the north of the stele, in the shadow of the sacred forest-mountain Ötüken, was his Ördü, or nomadic capital. Mountains were considered sacred in Tengriism, but Ötüken was especially sacred, because the ancestor spirits of the khagans and beys resided here. Whoever controlled this valley was considered heavenly appointed leader of the Turks and could rally the tribes. Thus control of the Orkhon Valley was of the utmost strategic importance for every Turkic state.

The valley includes numerous archaeological remains dating back to the 6th century, but also Karakorum, the 13th- and 14th-century capital of Chingis (Genghis) Khan’s vast Empire. Collectively the remains in the site reflect the symbiotic links between nomadic, pastoral societies and their administrative and religious centres, and the importance of the Orkhon valley in the history of central Asia. The broad, shallow river valley provides water and shelter, key requisites for its role as a staging post on the ancient trade routes across the steppes, such as those now known as the Silk Road, and for its development as the centre of two of the vast Central Asian empires.

One of the main monuments of the Orkhon Valley is Erdene Zuu monastery, the earliest surviving Buddhist monastery in Mongolia. Abtai Sain Khan, ruler of the Khalkh Mongols and grandfather of Zanabazar, the first Jebtsundamba Khutuktu, ordered construction of the monastery in 1585 after his meeting with the 3rd Dalai Lama and the declaration of Tibetan Buddhism as the state religion of Mongolia. Planners attempted to create a surrounding wall that resembled a Tibetan Buddhist rosary featuring 108 stupas (108 being a sacred number in Buddhism), but this objective was probably never achieved. The monastery was damaged in 1688 during one of the many wars between Dzungars and Khalkh Mongols. It was rebuilt in the 18th century and by 1872 had a full 62 temples and housed up to 1000 monks. In 1939 the Communist leader Khorloogiin Choibalsan ordered the monastery destroyed, as part of a purge that obliterated hundreds of monasteries in Mongolia and killed over ten thousand monks. After the fall of Communism in 1990, the monastery was turned over to the lamas.

About the stamp
The stamp is part of a definitives series of four, issued on July 21, 2013, about which I wrote here.

Orkhon Valley - Wikipedia
Erdene Zuu Monastery - Wikipedia
Orkhon Valley Cultural Landscape - UNESCO official website

sender: ???
sent from Ulan Bator (Mongolia), on 10.04.2014
photo: G. Gan-Ulzii

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