Mysterious mountain palace, one of the wonders of Siberia, was built in 777 AD
By Anna Liesowska16 June 2020
Breathtaking island complex close to Mongolian border rumoured to have been built for tragic Chinese princess.
The site has amazed almost everyone who has ever ventured here to the very centre point of Eurasia. PIcture: Por Bajin Foundation
New scientific findings have pin-pointed the date of the construction of stunning Por-Bajin in Lake Tere-Khol some 2,300 metres above sea level.
It was designed only for summer living between the magnificent Sayan and Altai ranges but in fact was never occupied.
Its purpose and inspiration have long perplexed experts, and it has amazed almost everyone who has ever ventured here to the very centre point of Eurasia.
As President Vladimir Putin said: ‘I have been to many places, I have seen many things. But I have never seen anything of the kind.’
Now, though, Por-Bajin has given up one key secret.
Mysterious mountain palace, one of the wonders of Siberia, was built in 777 AD. Pictures: Por Bajin Foundation, Vera Salnitskaya/The Siberian Times
Research by the University of Groningen using a special carbon-14 dating technique has now established it was built in 777 AD, two decades later than the previous best guesses.
‘In the complex, the scientists found a beam with a spike from the year 775. As they were able to ascertain that the tree was felled two years later, the complex must have been constructed in 777,’ says a report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The findings likely undermine the romantic theory that this was a royal summer home, as espoused by local academic Demir Tulush, of Tuva Institute of Humanities and Social and Economic Research.
He had suggested the version that it could be have been a ‘summer palace built for a Kha Khan’s wife’, possibly the spouse or intended partner of Byogyu-kagan, son of Boyan-Chor.
‘It is known that Chinese princesses could become the wives of Uighur and Turk Kha Khans,’ he explained.
‘Probably, one such princess was destined to live in this palace, but something happened to her on the way here, and she never came to the site. It was totally abandoned in 30 or 40 years.’
Archaeologists found clay tablets of human feet, faded coloured drawings on the plaster of the walls, giant gates and fragments of burnt wood in what has been hailed as ‘one of the most mysterious archaeological monuments of Russia’. Picture: Por Bajin Foundation
The new study indicates rather than Por-Bajin was built as a Manichaean monastery, an option also offered by Tulush – but at the very moment it was completed this religion went abruptly out of fashion.
The latest researchers say: ‘In the year 777, Tengri Bögü Khan (Byogyu-kagan) was in charge. He had converted to Manichaeism, a gnostic religion that was strongly opposed.
‘Indeed, Bögü Khan was killed during an anti-Manichaean rebellion in 779.’
‘All this ties in neatly with the archaeological evidence,’ said Margot Kuitems, a postdoctoral researcher at the Centre for Isotope Research at the University of Groningen.
‘It is likely that the complex was built to serve as a Manichaean monastery.
‘This explains why it was never used after the anti-Manichaeans defeated Bögü Khan.
‘If it had been a palace or a fortress, it is more likely that the victors would have moved in.’
Russian ethnographer Dmitry Klements, who examined the ruins in 1891, believed it to be an Uighur fortress, a view echoed by Soviet archaeologist Sevyan Vainshtein, who conducted the excavations on the site in the decade following 1953. Pictures: Vera Salnitskaya/The Siberian Times
Nonetheless, it was built to a spectacular scale according to the demanding edicts of its ancient designers: for example, the towering outer walls were ten metres tall and 12 metres wide.
They were planned to be impenetrable.
It has been described as ‘a kremlin-like fortress’ with its centrepiece a structure the inner courtyard supported by no less than three dozen wooden columns resting on stone bases.
Archaeologists found clay tablets of human feet, faded coloured drawings on the plaster of the walls, giant gates and fragments of burnt wood in what has been hailed as ‘one of the most mysterious archaeological monuments of Russia’.
Laser mapping helped experts build a 3D model of what the palace – on a 3.5 hectare site – might have looked like in its heyday.
Russian ethnographer Dmitry Klements, who examined the ruins in 1891, believed it to be an Uighur fortress, a view echoed by Soviet archaeologist Sevyan Vainshtein, who conducted the excavations on the site in the decade following 1953.
Later theories would include a Buddhist monastery or an astronomical observatory.
Breathtaking island complex close to Mongolian border rumoured to have been built for tragic Chinese princess. Pictures: Vera Salnitskaya/The Siberian Times
Russian scientists established that there was almost no ‘cultural layer’ at this site.
Hardly any evidence of man’s presence here was found. Hence the conclusion that the VIP for whom it was built never lived here. Nor did anyone else.
Head archeologist Irina Arzhantseva said: ‘If the Kha Khan with his wife and servants had spent at least one summer in the fortress, or monks had lived here, they would have left a layer of soil, landfills, full of artifacts.
‘However, the ancient floors uncovered during the excavations are almost not disturbed.
‘Only one pit was found containing debris, where we located one single silver earring with a pendant – very typical men’s jewellery for Turks at this time.
‘Fragments of three to four ceramic vessels were found at the gate, on the ramp. Perhaps a guard or builders left them.’
The materials used to build the lake were taken from the island itself, or the lake bottom, analysis shows. Pictures: Vera Salnitskaya/The Siberian Times
There was no heating system nor fireplace in a place with a harsh winter climate: this was evidently only a summer schloss.
Geomorphologists found convincing evidence that disputed the claim that the lake was artificial. It is entirely natural, a fact which increases admiration for the ancient builders.
‘Drilling of lake’s sediment and the determination of their radiocarbon age showed that it appeared long before the construction of the fortress, not less than 11,000 years ago,’ said Dr Arzhantseva.
A bridge to the fortress was also unlikely: access had been by boat.
The materials used to build the lake were taken from the island itself, or the lake bottom, analysis shows.
Yet while no-one ever lived here, not only was this palace fully completed – in other words it was not semi-built and then deserted – but repairs were carried out on it in the years after its erection.
(C)THE SIBERIAN TIMES 2020