Aerial photography has helped shed new light on the capital of Kublai Khan’s empire, also known as Xuanadu in Marco Polo’s Travel Notes. The description of the metropolis Shangdu (Xuanadu) by Marco Polo some 700 years ago has somewhat been confirmed by aerial photography. The ruins have been overgrown with grass for more than 600 years. Archaeologists have taken a large number of photos of the site in Zhenglan Banner in north China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region from planes flying at low altitudes in recent years. By examining photos, archaeologists can tell the shape of the ancient site and where the relics are located at the site.
The capital Shangdu was built in 1256 under the command of Kublai Khan who was enthroned there four years later. It became a summer resort after the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) moved its capital to present-day Beijing and was destroyed during a peasant war at the end of the dynasty. Since the capital has been dilapidated for many years its layout was not clear. As it is located in vast grassland, the inconvenient traffic condition makes it difficult to conduct archaeological research in traditional ways.