Ulaanbaatar, formerly anglicised as UlanBator is the capital and largest city of Mongolia. The city is not part of any aimag (province), and its population as of 2014 was over 1.3 million, almost half of the country’s total population.
Located in north central Mongolia, the municipality lies at an elevation of about 1,300 meters (4,300 ft) in a valley on the Tuul River. It is the country’s cultural, industrial and financial heart, the centre of Mongolia’s road network and connected by rail to both the Trans-Siberian Railway in Russia and the Chinese railway system.
The city was founded in 1639 as a nomadic Buddhist monastic centre. In 1778, it settled permanently at its present location, the junction of the Tuul and Selbe rivers. Before that, it changed location twenty-eight times, with each location being chosen ceremonially. In the twentieth century, Ulaanbaatar grew into a major manufacturing center.
Ulaanbaatar has been given numerous names in its history. Before 1911, the official name was Ikh Khüree or Daa Khüree or simply Khüree. The Chinese equivalent was rendered into Western languages as “Kulun” or “Kuren.”
Upon independence in 1911, with both the secular government and the Bogd Khan’s palace present, the city’s name changed to Niĭslel Khüree.It is called Bogdiin Khuree in the folk song “Praise of Bogdiin Khuree”. In western languages, the city at that time was most often referred to as Urga.
When the city became the capital of the new Mongolian People’s Republic in 1924, its name was changed to Ulaanbaatar. On the session of the 1st Great People’s Khuraldaan of Mongolia in 1924, a majority of delegates expressed their wish to change the capital city’s name to Baatar Khot (“Hero City”). However, under the pressure of the Soviet activist of the Communist International, Turar Ryskulov, the city was named Ulaanbaatar Khot (“City of Red Hero”).
In Europe and North America, Ulaanbaatar continued to be generally known as Urga or Khure until 1924, and Ulan Bator afterwards (a spelling derived from Улан-Батор, Ulan-Bator). The Russian spelling (“Улан-Батор”) is the Russian phonetic equivalent of the Mongolian name, according to Russian spelling conventions. This form was defined two decades before the Mongolian name got its current Cyrillic script spelling and ‘Ulaanbaatar’ transliteration (1941–1950), however the name of the city was spelled Ulaanbaatar koto during the decade that Mongolia used the Latin alphabet.
Human habitation at the site of Ulaanbaatar dates from the Lower Paleolithic, with a number of sites on Bogd Khan Mountain, Buyant-Ukhaa and Songinokhairkhan Mountain revealing tools dating from 300,000 years ago to 40,000–12,000 years ago. These Upper Paleolithic people hunted mammoth and wooly rhinoceros, the bones of which are found abundantly around Ulaanbaatar.
Remains of Wang Khan’s 12th-century palace in Ulaanbaatar.
A number of Xiongnu era royal tombs have been discovered around Ulaanbaatar, including the tombs of Belkh Gorge near Dambadarjaalin monastery and tombs of Songinokhairkhan. Located on the banks of the Tuul River, Ulaanbaatar has been well within the sphere of Turco-Mongol nomadic empires throughout history.
Wang Khan Toghrul of the Keraites, a Nestorian Christian monarch whom Marco Polo identified as the legendary Prester John, is said to have had his palace here (the Black Forest of the Tuul River) and forbade hunting in the holy mountain Bogd Uul. The palace is said to be where Genghis Khan stayed with Yesui Khatun before attacking the Tangut in 1226.
Ulaanbaatar is located at about 1,350 metres (4,430 ft) above mean sea level, slightly east of the centre of Mongolia on the Tuul River, a subtributary of the Selenge, in a valley at the foot of the mountain Bogd Khan Uul. Bogd Khan Uul is a broad, heavily forested mountain rising 2,250 metres (7,380 ft) to the south of Ulaanbaatar. It forms the boundary between the steppe zone to the south and the forest-steppe zone to the north.
It is also one of the oldest reserves in the world, being protected by law since the 18th century. The forests of the mountains surrounding Ulaanbaatar are composed of evergreen pines, deciduous larches and birches while the riverine forest of the Tuul River is composed of broad-leaved, deciduous poplars, elms and willows. As a point of reference Ulaanbaatar lies on roughly the same latitude as Vienna, Munich, Orléans, and Seattle. It lies on roughly the same longitude as Chongqing, Hanoi and Jakarta.
Owing to its high elevation, its relatively high latitude, its location hundreds of kilometres from any coast, and the effects of the Siberian anticyclone, Ulaanbaatar is the coldest national capital in the world, with a monsoon-influenced, cold semi-arid climate that closely borders a subarctic climate and warm-summer humid continental.
The city features brief, warm summers and long, bitterly cold and dry winters. The coldest January temperatures, usually at the time just before sunrise, are between −36 and −40 °C (−32.8 and −40.0 °F) with no wind, due to temperature inversion. Most of the annual precipitation of 267 millimetres (10.51 in) falls from June to September. The highest recorded precipitation in the city was 659 millimetres or 25.94 inches at the Khureltogoot Astronomical Observatory on Mount Bogd Khan Uul. Ulaanbaatar has an average annual temperature of −0.4 °C or 31.3 °F, making it the coldest capital in the world (as cold as Nuuk, Greenland, but Greenland is not independent).
The city lies in the zone of discontinuous permafrost, which means that building is difficult in sheltered aspects that preclude thawing in the summer, but easier on more exposed ones where soils fully thaw. Suburban residents live in traditional yurts that do not protrude into the soil. Extreme temperatures in the city range from −42.2 °C (−44.0 °F) in January and February 1957 to 39.0 °C (102.2 °F) in July 1988.
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