"Erdene Zuu monastery, Karakorum" Mongolia Things to Do Tip by Willettsworld

Mongolia Things to Do: 178 reviews and 382 photos

Erdene Zuu, (meaning "Hundred Treasures"), was the first Buddhist monastery in Mongolia. The monastery was started in 1586 by Abtai Khaan, but wasn't entirely finished until about 300 years later. It had between 60 and 100 temples, about 300 gers were set up inside the walls and, at its height, up to 1000 monks were in residence.

Like Karakorum, the monastery was abandoned and then vandalised by the invading Manchu?s. Attempts at restoration were made in about 1760 and, again, in 1808 under the direction of the famous architect Manzshir, but then came the Stalinist purges of the 1930s. All but three of the temples in Erdene Zuu were destroyed and an unknown number of monks were either killed or shipped off to Siberia and never heard from again.

However, a surprising number of statues, tsam masks and scroll paintings were saved from the monastery at the time of the purges - possibly with the help of a few sympathetic military officers. These were buried in nearby mountains, or stored in local homes (at great risk to the residents). The monastery remained closed until 1965 when it was permitted to reopen as a museum, but not as a place of worship. It was only with the collapse of communism in 1990 that religious freedom was restored and the monastery became active again. Today, Erdene Zuu still retains much of its former glory and is the largest tourist draw outside Ulaanbaatar.

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  • Written Sep 28, 2008
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