Sarai Batu: The Reconstructed 13th Century Capital City of The Golden Horde

 The ancient city of Sarai Batu was located on the lower reaches of the Volga River, about 120 km north of the modern city of Astrakhan in present-day Russia. It was the capital of the Golden Horde, the western part of the Mongol Empire, which flourished from the middle of the 13th century to the end of the 14th century. At its peak, the territory of the Golden Horde covered much of Eastern Europe from the Urals to the Danube River, and extended deep into Siberia in the east. To the south are the lands of the Horde, the Black Sea, the Caucasus Mountains and the Iranian regions of the Mongol dynasty known as Il-Khan.

Sarai Batu (meaning "Batu's Palace") was founded in the mid-1240s by the Mongol ruler Batu Khan, the grandson of Genghis Khan. At the time, it was a fairly large settlement with a population of 75,000, making it one of the largest cities in the medieval world.

A 13th-century Arab traveler from North Africa described it as "one of the most beautiful cities that has attained extraordinary size, full of people, beautiful markets and wide streets". The traveler counted thirteen great mosques and thirteen churches, many bazaars and bath-houses. Its population was multi-cultural. In addition to the Mongol rulers, they saw Russians, Caucasians and many 'merchants and strangers' from as far away as Iraq, Egypt, Syria and Greece, each nation living in its own quarters.

In the 14th century, for unknown reasons, the city was abandoned and the capital was moved to a new location about 180 km northwest of Sarai Batu. The new town became Inn Burke or "New Inn".

A large city like Sarai naturally attracted enemies. Both the old and the new capitals were sacked by the Crimean Khanate in the late 14th and early 16th centuries. The city was eventually destroyed by Ivan IV of Russia in 1556.

This once beautiful city is now re-lived through the set of the 2011 film "The Horde". To film the historical drama, a Russian production company built an elaborate replica of Sarai Batu. The filming location was chosen very close to the actual historical site. After construction was finished, instead of destroying the film set, the renovated capital was turned into a tourist attraction. Although the house and other structures on the set appear to be made of mud, it is actually made of wood and concrete. The clay layer was added only to the exterior.

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