Erdene Zuu – First and Oldest Buddhist Monastery in Mongolia
Located just outside the ruins of Genghis Khan’s Mongolian capital of Karakorum, Erdene Zuu dates back to the 1580’s when Buddhism was declared Mongolia’s state religion. At that time, monasteries were movable – just like the nomadic population. But Erdene Zuu was built as a permanent structure.
At its height, the monastery compound had more than 60 temples and 300 gers (yurts) inside its walls, with close to 1,000 monks in residence. Over the years, Erdene Zuu had periods of prosperity and periods of neglect. Buildings were damaged and had to be re-built, but it
During Stalin’s time, much of the monastery was destroyed. The part that remained became government property and was turned into a museum. But after the fall of communism in 1990, the monastery was returned to the monks and became an active Buddhist monastery again.
Today, Erdene Zuu, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is a walled compound surrounded by 108 stupas – 108 is a magical number in Buddhism. Inside, three temples survived from the 16th century.
It is both an active monastery and a museum that welcomes tourists. It may not impress travelers who have seen Buddhist temples in Thailand or elsewhere, but it is of interest because of its important place in the history and culture of Mongolia.