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Ulan Bator, or Ulaanbaatar ( , ᠤᠯᠠᠭᠠᠨ ᠪᠠᠭᠠᠲᠤᠷ), is the capital and largest city of Mongoliamarker. The city is an independent municipality not part of any province, and its population as of 2008 is just over 1 million.

Located in the north central part of the country, the city lies at an elevation of about in a valley on the Tuul River. It is the cultural, industrial, and financial heart of the country. It is also the center of Mongolia's road network, and connected by rail to the Trans-Siberian Railway and the Chinesemarker railway network.

The city was founded in 1639 as an initially nomadic Buddhist monastic centre. In 1778 it settled permanently at its present location, the junction of the Tuul and Selbe rivers. Before that it had changed location 28 times, with each location being chosen ceremonially. In the 20th century, Ulan Bator grew into a major manufacturing centre.


Ulan Bator has had numerous names in its history. From 1639–1706, it was known as Örgöö ( ), and from 1706–1911 as Ikh Khüree (Mongolian: Их = "great", Хүрээ = "camp"), Da Khüree or simply Khüree. Upon independence in 1911, with both the secular government and the Bogd Khan's palace present, the city's name changed to Niislel Khüree (Mongolian: Нийслэл = "capital", Хүрээ = "camp").

When the city became the capital of the new Mongolian People's Republic in 1924, its name was changed to Ulaanbaatar (Улаанбаатар, classical script: , ), literally "red hero"), in honor of Mongolia's national hero Damdin Sükhbaatar, whose warriors liberated Mongolia from Ungern von Sternberg's troops and Chinese occupation shoulder-to-shoulder with the Soviet Red Army. His statue still adorns Ulan Bator's central square.

In Europe and North America, Ulan Bator was generally known as Urga (from Örgöö) or sometimes Kuren (from Khüree) or Kulun (from 庫倫, the Chinese transcription of Khüree) before 1924, and Ulan Bator afterwards, after the . The Russian spelling is different from the Mongolian because it was defined phonetically, and the Cyrillic script was only introduced in Mongolia seventeen years later.


Prehistoric settlements

Red ochre rock paintings from the Bronze Age (3000 years ago) are to be found on the north side of Mt. Bogd Khan Uul facing the city. The paintings show human figures, horses, eagles and abstract designs like horizontal lines and large squares with over a hundred dots within them. The same style of painting from the same era is found very close to the west of the city at Gachuurt, as well as in Khovsgol Aimag and southern Siberia, indicating a common South Siberianmarker nomadic pastoral culture. Mt. Bogd Khan Uul was probably an important religious cult location for these people.

To the north of Ulan Bator there are the vast Noin-Ula Xiongnu burial sites which are over 2000 years old. The area of Ulan Bator was well within the sphere of nomadic empires such as the Xiongnu, Xianbei, Rouran, Gokturk, Uighur, Khitan and Mongol Empire.

At Nalaikh District there is the important Stele of Tonyukuk (c. 697 AD) inscribed with Turkic Rune script. The inscription is lengthy and it is worth noting that here one can find mentions of a people called "Khitans" who were a Mongolic speaking people of the east.

Wang Khan Toghrul of the Kerait 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 ruins of his palace has been found near the city. A simple 13th century rock painting of a Mongolian woman with distinct Mongolian headdress can be seen on the north side of Mt Bogd Uul. Abtai Sain Khan is said to have worshipped the mountain in the 16th century as well.

Mobile monastery

Founded in 1639 as a yurt monastery, Ulan Bator, then Örgöö (palace-yurt), was first located at the lake Shireet Tsagaan nuur in what is now Övörkhangaimarker, around 250 km from the present site of Ulan Bator, and was mainly intended to be the seat of the first Jebtsundamba Khutughtu, Zanabazar.

As a mobile monastery-town, it was often moved to various places along the Selenge, Orkhonmarker and Tuul rivers, as supply and other needs would demand. During the Dzungar wars of the late 17th century, it was even moved to Inner Mongolia. As the city grew, it moved less and less. In 1778, the city settled for good at its current location, near the confluence of the Selbe and Tuul rivers and beneath Bogd Khan Uulmarker, back then also on the caravan route from Beijing to Kyakhtamarker. The city became the seat not only of the Jebtsundamba Khutugtus, but also of two Qingmarker ambans, and a Chinese trade town ( ) grew several kilometers east of the city center. Since 1778 Urga had more than 10,000 monks. They were regulated by a monastic rule called the Internal Rule of the Grand Monastery or Yeke Kuriyen-u Doto'adu Durem (for example, in 1797 or the second year of Jiaqing a decree of the 4th Jebtsundamba forbade "singing, playing with archery, myagman, chess, usury and smoking"). Urga was visited by Abbe Joseph Gabet, Abbe Huc, Przhevalsky, Pyotr Kozlov and Pozdneev. In 1863 the Russian Consulate of Urga was opened in a newly built two-storey building. A small onion-domed Chapel of the Holy Trinity was opened the same year.

Revolutions of 1911 and 1921

By the early 20th century, Ikh Khüree had a population of 25,000, of whom some 10,000 were Buddhist monks or monastery workers. In 1911, with the Qing Dynastymarker in China headed for total collapse, Mongolian leaders in Ikh Khüree for Naadam met in secret and resolved to end three hundred years of Chinese control of their country. On December 29 1911 the Bogd Khan was declared ruler of an independent Mongolia. Khüree as the seat of the Jebtsundamba Khutugtu was the logical choice for the capital of the new state. However, a Russia-Mongolia-China conference in 1914 designated Mongolia as an autonomous region of China, and in 1919 Mongolian nobles, over the opposition of the Bogd Khan, agreed to full union. Urga was occupied by Chinese troops, and the Chinese reasserted control over Mongolia.

In 1921 the city changed hands twice. First, in February 1921, a mixed Russian/Tibetan/Mongolian force led by White Russian warlord Baron Ungern von Sternberg captured the city, freeing the Bogd Khan from Chinese imprisonment and killing most of the Chinese garrison. Baron Ungern's capture of Urga was followed by a spree of looting and murder and the massacre of Urga's small Jewish community. On February 22 1921 the Bogd Khan was once again crowned Khan of Mongolia in Urga. However, at the same time Baron Ungern was taking control of Urga, a Soviet-supported Communist Mongolian force led by Damdin Sükhbaatar was forming up in Russia, and in March they crossed the border. Ungern and his men rode out in May to meet them but suffered a disastrous defeat in June. In July the Communist Russo-Mongolian army became the second conquering force in six months to enter Urga. On October 29 1924 the town was renamed to Ulaanbaatar ("red hero") as reference to Sükhbaatar, who had died earlier that year.

In the socialist period, and especially following the Second World War, most of the old yurt quarters were replaced by Soviet-style blocks of flats, often financed by the Soviet Union. The Transmongolian Railway, connecting Ulan Bator with Moscow and Beijing, was completed in 1956, and cinemas, theatres, museums etc. were erected. On the other hand, many of the temples and monasteries of pre-socialist Khüree were destroyed following the anti-religious purges of the late 1930s.

Democratic protests of 1989-1990

Government palace on Sükhbaatar Square
Ulan Bator was the site of demonstrations that led to Mongolia's transition to democracy and market economy in 1990. On December 10 1989, protesters outside the Youth Culture Centre called for Mongolia to implement perestroika and glasnost in their full sense. Dissident leaders demanded free elections and economic reform. On January 14 1990 the protesters, having grown from two hundred to some 1,000, met at the Lenin Museum in Ulan Bator. A demonstration in Sukhbaatar Square on Jan. 21 (in weather of -30 C) followed. Afterwards, weekend demonstrations in January and February were held and the forming of Mongolia's first opposition parties. On March 7, ten dissidents assembled in Sukhbaatar Square and went on a hunger strike. Thousands of supporters joined them. More came on March 8, and the crowd grew more unruly; seventy people were injured and one killed. On March 9 the Communist MPRP government resigned. The new government announced Mongolia's first free elections, which were held in July. (Ironically, the Communist government won the election by a wide margin).

Since Mongolia's transition to a market economy in 1990, the city has experienced further growth - especially in the yurt quarters, as construction of new blocks of flats had basically broken down in the 1990s - and the population has more than doubled to over one million inhabitants, about 50% of Mongolia's entire population. This causes a number of social, environmental, and transportation problems. In recent years, construction of new buildings has gained new momentum, especially in the city center, and flat prices have skyrocketed.

2008 Protests

Damage to MPRP headquarters after 2008 riots
In 2008, Ulaanbaatar was the scene of riots after the Mongolian Democratic, Civil Movement and Republican parties disputed the Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party's victory in the parliamentary elections. Approximately 30,000 people took part in a public meeting led by the opposition parties. After the meeting was over some protestors left the central square and moved on to the nearby headquarters of the Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party, attacking and burning the building. A police station also was attacked. At night rioters set fire to the Cultural Palace, where a theatre, museum and National art gallery were vandalised and burned. Torched cars, bank robberies and looting were reported. The organisations in the burning buildings were vandalised and looted. Police used tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannon against stone-throwing protestors. A four-day state of emergency was declared, the capital was placed under a 2200 to 0800 curfew, and alcohol sales banned, following which measures rioting did not resume . Five people were killed and hundereds arrested by the police during the suppression of the riots. Human rights groups expressed concerns about the handling of this unprecedented incident by the authorities..

Administration and subdivisions

Map of the districts of Ulan Bator
Ulan Bator is divided into nine districts (Düüregs): Baganuurmarker, Bagakhangaimarker, Bayangol, Bayanzürkh, Chingeltei, Khan Uul, Nalaikhmarker, Songino Khairkhan, and Sükhbaatar. Each district is subdivided into Khoroos.

The capital is governed by a city council (the Citizen's Representatives Hural) with forty members, elected every four years. The city council appoints the mayor. The current mayor is Tüdeviin Bilegt. Ulan Bator is governed as an independent first-level subdivision of Mongolia, separate from Töv Aimagmarker, the province that surrounds Ulan Bator.

The city consists of a central district built in Soviet 1940s and 1950s-style architecture, surrounded by and mingled with residential concrete towerblocks and large yurt quarters. In recent years, many of the towerblock's ground floors have been modified and upgraded to small shops, and many new buildings have been erected, some of them illegally.

Geography and climate

Ulan Bator is located at about 1350 meters (4430 ft) above sea level, slightly east of the center of Mongolia on the Tuul River, a subtributary of the Selenge, in a valley at the foot of the mountain Bogd Khan Uulmarker.

Due to its high elevation, relatively high latitude, and location hundreds of kilometres from any coast, Ulan Bator is the coldest national capital in the world, with a monsoon-influenced cold desert climate (Koppen climate classification, Bwk) with brief, warm summers and long, very cold and dry winters. Precipitation is heavily concentrated in the warmer months. It has an average annual temperature of -1.3 °C (29.7 °F). The city lies in the zone of sporadic 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.


View of city from Zaisan Memorial
Few buildings in Ulaanbaatar predate World War II. Pre-World War II buildings that survive include: Dambadarjaalin monastery inSukhbaatar District (1765), Dashchoilin monastery's large yurt chapels (built in 1778), Gandan monastery's golden-roofed Gandantegchinlen temple also called the Tsogchin dugan (1838), Vajradhara temple (1841), Zuu temple (1869), Didan Laviran temple (19th century), Erdem Itgemjit temple (1893) at the Bogd Khan's Winter Palace, rest of the buildings at the same Palace (1893-1906), the Museum of Ulaanbaatar's History which was formerly the private residence of the rich Buryat merchant Tsogt Badamjav (1904), Zanabazar's Art Museum building which was formerly called the Ondor Khorshoo (1905), the tall Megjid Janraisig temple (1913-1914), the residence of Chin Wang Khanddorj, a prominent noble and politician in the early years of Mongolia's independence (1913), the first telephone building where Russian Orthodox choir singers stayed (1914), Marshal Zhukov Museum etc. The building of the Teacher's College was originally the government headquarters and dates from 1930. Prime Minister Genden's residence was built in 1930.


One of the gates of the Winter Palace
Among the notable older monasteries is the Choijin Lama Monasterymarker, a Buddhist monastery that was completed in 1908. It escaped the destruction of Mongolian monasteries when it was turned into a museum in 1942. Another is the Gandan Monasterymarker, which dates to the 19th century. Its most famous attraction is a 26.5-meter-high golden statue of Migjid Janraisig. These monasteries are among the very few in Mongolia to escape the wholesale destruction of Mongolian monasteries under Khorloogiin Choibalsan.

Winter Palace

Old Ikh Khüree, once the city was set up as a permanent capital, had a number of palaces and noble residences in an area called Öndgiin sürgiin nutag. The Jebtsundamba Khutughtu, who was later crowned Bogd Khan, had four main imperial residences, which were located between the Middle (Dund gol) and Tuul rivers. The summer palace was called Erdmiin dalai buyan chuulgan süm or Bogd khaanii serüün ord. Other palaces were the White palace (Tsagaan süm or Gьngaa dejidlin), and the Pandelin palace (also called Naro Kha Chod süm), which was situated in the left bank of Tuul River. Some of the palaces were also used for religious purposes. The only palace that remains is the winter palace. The Winter Palace of the Bogd Khanmarker (Bogd khaanii nogoon süm or Bogd khaanii öwliin ordon) remains as a museum of the last monarch. The complex includes six temples, many of the Bogd Khan's and his wife's possessions are on display in the main building.


Ulaanbaatar has several museums dedicated to Mongolian history and culture. The Natural History Museum features many dinosaur fossils and meteorites found in Mongolia. The National Museum of Mongolian History includes exhibits from prehistoric times through the Mongol Empire to the present day. The Zanabazar Museum of Fine Arts contains a large collection of Mongolian art, including works of the 17th century sculptor/artist Zanabazar, as well as Mongolia's most famous painting, One Day In Mongolia by B. Sharav.

Pre-1778 artifacts that never left the city since its founding include the Vajradhara statue made by Zanabazar himself in 1683 (the city's main deity kept at the Vajradhara temple), a highly ornate throne presented to Zanabazar by the Kangxi Emperor (before 1723), a sandalwood hat presented to Zanabazar by the Dalai Lama (c. 1663), Zanabazar's large fur coat which was also presented by the Kangxi Emperor and a great number of original statues made by Zanabazar himself (e.g. the Green Tara).

Opera house

The Ulaanbaatar Opera Housemarker hosts concerts and musical performances.

Sükhbaatar Square

Sükhbaatar Squaremarker, in the government district, is the center of Ulaanbaatar. In the middle of Sükhbaatar Square, there is a statue of Damdin Sükhbaatar on horseback. The spot was chosen because that was where Sukhbaatar's horse had peed (a good omen) on July 8, 1921 during a gathering of the Red Army. On the north side of Sükhbaatar Square is the Mongolian Parliament building, featuring a large statue of Chinggis Khan at the top of the front steps. Peace Avenue (Enkh Taivny Örgön Chölöö), the main thoroughfare through town, runs along the south side of the square.

Zaisan Memorial

The Zaisan Memorialmarker, a memorial to Soviet soldiers killed in World War II, sits on a hill south of the city. The Zaisan Memorial includes a Soviet tank paid for by the Mongolian people and a circular memorial painting which in the socialist realism style depicts scenes of friendship between the peoples of Soviet Unionmarker and Mongolia. Visitors who make the long climb to the top are rewarded with a panoramic view of the whole city down in the valley.

National Sport Stadium

National Sports Stadiummarker is the main sporting venue. The Naadam festival is held here every July.


Gorkhi-Terelj National Parkmarker, a nature preserve with many tourist facilities, is approximately 70 km from Ulan Bator. Accessible via paved road.

Embassies and Consulates

Among the countries which have diplomatic facilities in Ulaanbaatar are the following: Australia, Austria, Bulgaria, Canada, China, Cuba, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, India, Japan, Kazakhstan, Laos, Russia, Slovakia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Turkey, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Vietnam.


The official symbol of Ulan Bator is the , a mythical bird in both Buddhist and Hindu scriptures called Khan Garuda or Khangar'd ( ) by Mongols.

Coat of arms

The appears on Ulan Bator's coat of arms. In its right hand is a key, a symbol of prosperity and openness, and in its left is a lotus flower, a symbol of peace, equality, and purity. In its talons it is holding a snake, a symbol of evil of which it is intolerant. On the 's forehead is the soyombo symbol, which is featured on the flag of Mongolia.


The city’s flag is sky blue with the arms in the center.


National University of Mongolia
Ulan Bator has six major universities:

Even though relatively small, the Institute of Finance and Economics is popular as a business school in Mongolia.

The National Library of Mongolia has a wide selection of English-language texts on Mongolian subjects.

The American School of Ulaanbaatar and the International School of Ulaanbaatar both offer Western-style K-12 education in English for Mongolian nationals and foreign residents.


Interurban and international: Ulan Bator is served by the Chinggis Khaan International Airportmarker (formerly Buyant Ukhaa Airport). It is 18 km southwest of the city. Chinggis Khaan airport is the only airport in Mongolia that offers international flights. Flights to Ulan Bator are available from Tokyomarker, Seoulmarker, Berlinmarker, Moscowmarker, Irkutskmarker, and Beijing. Ulan Bator is connected by road to most of the major towns in Mongolia, but most roads in Mongolia are unpaved and unmarked and road travel can be difficult. Even within the city, not all roads are paved and some of the ones that are paved are not in good condition. There are rail connections to the Trans-Siberian railway via Naushki and to the Chinese railway system via Jiningmarker.

Intra-urban: The national and municipal governments regulate a wide system of private transit providers which operate numerous bus lines around the city. A secondary transit system of microbuses (passenger vans) operates alongside these bus lines.

Sister cities

Plaques depicting the sister cities of Ulan Bator.

According to the city's official website:

See also


  1. Ulan Bator Statistic Bulletin May.2008
  2. Ulan Bator Official Web Portal
  3. This Shireet tsagaan nuur is located in Övörkhangai's Bürd sum. P. Enkhbat, O. Pürev, Улаанбаатар, Ulaanbaatar 2001, p. 9f
  4. Brief history of Ulaanbaatar
  5. Kohn, Michael Lonely Planet Mongolia 4th edition, 2005 ISBN 1740593596, p. 52
  6. Palmer, James The Bloody White Baron 2008, Faber and Faber Limited Press, ISBN 9780571230235, p. 45
  7. Palmer, pp.47-8
  8. Palmer 120-121
  9. Palmer 122
  10. Palmer, pp. 131-159
  11. Palmer, 161-163
  12. Palmer 178-9
  13. Palmer 205-7
  14. Palmer 208-9
  15. Rossabi, Morris Modern Mongolia: From Khans to Commissars to Capitalists 2005, University of California Press, ISBN 0520244192. pp. 1-28
  16. BBC.Mongolia calls state of emergency
  17. ABC News.Mongolia clamps down after 5 killed in unrest
  18. BBC.Fatal clashes in Mongolia capital the situation had stabilised
  19. BBC. Streets calm in riot-hit Mongolia
  20. Amnesty International Are the Mongolian Authorities getting away with murder?
  21. Human Rights Coalition statment
  22. Official website of the mayor of Ulan Bator
  23. coldcapital.html
  24. Choijin Lama Monastery
  25. Kohn, pp. 63-4
  26. Natural History Museum
  27. Kohn, p. 60
  28. Kohn, pp. 61, 66
  29. National Museum
  30. Kohn, p. 61
  31. Zanazabar Museum of Fine Arts
  32. Kohn, p. 52
  33. Kohn, Michael. Lonely Planet Mongolia. 2008, fifth edition, ISBN 9781741045789, p. 255
  36. Kohn, pp. 54-5
  37. American School of Ulaanbaatar
  38. International School of Ulaanbaatar
  39. Kohn, p. 88
  40. MIAT Route Map
  41. Transport in Mongolia
  42. Улаанбаатар хотын ах, дүү хотууд
  43. Irkustsk sister cities
  44. Chairman of the Committee for External Relations of St. Petersburg
  45. Ulan Ude looking for sister cities
  46. Denver Sister Cities

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