The Yuan Dynasty was notorious for succeeding the savage rule of Genghis Khan’s Mongol Empire. Marco Polo was a merchant that had a great deal of interests in the dynasty’s architecture, specifically of Kublai and its monarchy. The source, written by Marco Polo himself, helps better understand the city’s architecture by describing its various urban features and gives us a better understanding of the time period by describing the city’s form of government. Marco Polo’s source helps us better understand the city of Kublai by describing its various forms of architecture. One such example can be found when Marco Polo describes the palace in which the King resides, stating, “It is a complete square…four miles…in each angle is a very fine edifice,containing…implements of war”.
Polo describes the palace as being a complete square which shows the emphasis the Yuan Dynasty placed on symmetry in its architectural designs. Polo also describes the palace being four miles in length and width; guarded at all four corners by soldiers. In the source, Polo describes how Kublai receives its supply of water, which is by a river that flows directly into the palace through iron gratings by stating, “A river enters and flows out … but the fish are retained by iron gratings”. Along with the palace, Marco Polo describes the town of Kublai as well by making various observations about its urban characteristics. An example of this can be seen when Marco Polo observed, “A regular square, six miles on each side… surrounded by walls of earth, ten paces thick and twenty in height…twelve gates…men who guard that place”.
This descriptively tells us that the main town of Kublai was also a regular square, re-emphasizing the importance of symmetry in architecture during this time period. A defensive feature of the city was a tall wall made out of earth. There were twelve gates to enter the town. Soldiers were posted at each gate for security purposes. The city had wide streets for the convenience of traveling and transportation; the streets stretched from one side of the city to the other . Marco Polo had made these observations in his account and stated, “the streets are so broad and so straight that from one gate another is visible”.
One major reason the streets were wide was to allow merchants to travel easily across the city to trade their goods with all citizens. This is evident by Polo saying, “numerous merchants … bring more than a thousand wagons … to purchase what they want”. The city had many exquisite buildings and houses that Marco Polo found particularly beautiful. At the center of the city stood a grand steeple. which enforced curfew upon the city when its bells would sound. This is evident in the text when Marco Polo states, “it contains many beautiful houses and palaces…large one in the midst, a steeple with a large bell,sounds three times…after no man must leave”. Kublai’s form of government was a monarchy.
This means that the city of Kublai was in a time period were monarchies had great power and dictatorship over their land. The city was ruled by Lord Kublai and unlike modern monarchies, Lord Kublai had a wide range of power over his land.. Kublai monarchy had strict rules and regulations that citizens had to follow, such as a set curfew. Along with strict rules and regulations, Marco Polo also observed that the city had a city council with one individual named Achmac. Achmac had almost as much power and influence as King Kublai himself. He often abused his power by punishing those he despised; no one questioned his actions at all. This can be shown by the quote, “when desirous to inflict an injury on any one whom he hated, needed only to go to the emperor … none dared to oppose the purpose of Achmac”.
Kublai lived in a time period where there was no balance of power between high ranking officials and regular citizens. This meant officials could do almost anything they wanted, in contrast to citizens who were heavily restricted. Marco Polo’s source about the city of Kublai gave us knowledge about both the city and the time period in which it was in. The knowledge gained not only helps archaeologist better understand Kublai, it also helps us truly imagine what the daily life was like in that city for both a king and a regular citizen.