Nestled between modern glass buildings of Ulaanbaatar lies a mysterious green tile-roofed temple inside a fenced yard. This is the green palace and temple of the country’s last khaan, the Bogd VIII, now a museum. Jabzandamba Khutagt Bogd was enthroned as king on December 29, 1911, as both a political king and religious head. As a promoter of religious freedom and democracy, he has gone down in history as both a great political and spiritual leader. He ruled on the throne until his death in 1924.
It is said the Bogd Khaan lived here from 1911-1924. Upon entering the doors of one of Mongolia’s richest and most well-preserved museums, I felt as though history had come alive before my very eyes.
Visitors enter the museum through one of three massive pavilion doors located south of the green palace. The middle entrance was reserved for the king and queen only while the two side doors were used by court servants. The perpetually open doors symbolize the goodness and happiness of the universe that always flow into the palace. A large wooden board featuring 9 carved dragon images hangs over the main gate. Mongolian traditional script reads “In the 3rd month of 33rd year of the Badarguult Government (Дэцзун Цзайтянь, king of Qing Dinasty)” on the left, “Jabuzandamba Khutuktu the 8th” and “Rewarded by decree” in the center. Below them, there is a golden writing in Mongolian, Manchurian, Tibetan and Chinese that roughly translates to “Celebrate spreading good with happiness”.
Upon entering visitors are greeted by Bogd Khaan’s summer palace, built 1893-1903. The palace has 7 temples, Temple of Mahkranz, Temple of Zeegt Naamal, Shuteen Zurag (picture idols), Erdem Itgemjit (faithful study), Olon Burkhad (many deities), Library, Laviran.
Bogd Khaan was said to come here every day to meditate. Here, besides the images of Buddha, you can see the religious costumes of the king on display.
Bogd Khaan had 3 palaces, including this one. The other 2 are the Gungaadejidlyn, or the “White Palace” and the west of it, the Khastai Lavrin, or the “Red Palace”. These two palaces were separate and between them on the shore of the Tuul River was the temple dedicated to prayer and inspiration, known by its Tibetan name, the Sharavpeljeelyn Temple. It had green clay roof tiles so it became known among the people as the Bogd Khaan’s green palace. Some knew it as the Middle Temple or the High Temple.
The grounds officially became a museum complex and opened to the public in 1961. The museum houses around 8,600 exhibits and receives around 40,000 visitors a year. The museum complex includes the before mentioned 7 temples, the Winter Palace, The Gate of Peace and Tranquility, and the pavilions—nearly 20 structures in all.
The Summer Palace is located just behind the Summer Palace and is a more modern Soviet-style building.
This palace was built in 1903-1905 by Buryat builders from the Russian Consulate based on a blueprint given by Russia’s Nikolai II. It was in this building that the king and queen spent their winters for more than 20 years. They were heavily criticized for living in a foreign designed building so the roof was changed to include Buddhist style ornamentation to quash the naysayers.
The Green Palace has been added on to several times over the years. One of these instances was the construction of “Gate of Peace” during 1912-1919, to commemorate the Bogd Khaan’s establishment as the king over Mongolia. The gate was built without the use of nails. The gate has 8 pillars and 7 layers of roof. It is decorated with traditional designs, carvings, animal images and paintings depicting oriental folk stories and legends.
Also, next to the Winter Palace where the costumes and clothes of the era are displayed was once a shed of orts where the king’s carriage was stored and even functioned as a winter shelter for his elephant.
The leopard skin covered ger in which the royal couple lived, their comfortable palace rooms and furniture, their thrones with their 25 layers of padding, the king’s robes with their golden threads and dragon designs, his sable fur deel, and the queen’s jewelry with 9 precious stones—all of these were rare things, luxuries not commonly seen in the world at that time.