Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Cambaluc
CAMBALUC is the name by which, under sundry modifications, the royal city of the Great Khan became known to Europe during the Middle Ages, that city being in fact the same that we now know as Peking. The word itself represents the Mongol Kaan-Baligh, “the city of the khan,” or emperor, the title by which Peking continues, more or less, to be known to the Mongols and other northern Asiatics.
A city occupying approximately the same site had been the capital of one of the principalities into which China was divided some centuries before the Christian era; and during the reigns of the two Tartar dynasties that immediately preceded the Mongols in Northern China, viz., that of the Khitans, and of the Kin or “Golden” khans, it had been one of their royal residences. Under the names of Yenking, which it received from the Khitan, and of Chungtu, which it had from the Kin, it holds a conspicuous place in the wars of Chinghiz Khan against the latter dynasty. He captured it in 1215, but it was not till 1264 that it was adopted as the imperial residence in lieu of Kara Korum in the Mongol steppes, by his grandson Kublai. The latter selected a position a few hundred yards to the N.E. of the old city of Chungtu or Yenking, where he founded the new city of Ta-tu (“great capital”), called by the Mongols Taidu or Daitu, but also Kaan-baligh; and from this time dates the use of the latter name as applied to this site.
The new city formed a rectangle, enclosed by a colossal mud-rampart, the longer sides of which ran north and south. These were each about 5 English miles in length, the shorter sides 3, so that the circuit was upwards of 18 miles. The palace of the khan, with its gardens and lake, itself formed an inner inclosure fronting the south. There were eleven city gates, viz., three on the south side, always the formal front with the Tartars, and two on each of the other sides; and the streets ran wide and straight from gate to gate (except, of course, where interrupted by the palace-walls), forming an oblong chess-board plan.
Tatu continued to be the residence of the emperors till the fall of the Mongol power (1368). The native dynasty (Ming) which supplanted them established their residence at Nan-king (“South-Court”), but this proved so inconvenient that the second sovereign of the dynasty reoccupied Tatu, giving it then, for the first time, the name of Pe-king (“North-Court”). This was the name in common use when the Jesuits entered China towards the end of the 16th century, and began to send home accurate information about China. But it is not so now; the names in ordinary use being King-cheng or King-tu, both signifying “capital.” The restoration of Cambaluc was commenced in 1409. The size of the city was diminished by the retrenchment of nearly one-third at the northern end, which brought the enceinte more nearly to a square form. And this constitutes the modern (so-called) “Tartar city” of Peking, the south front of which is identical with the south front of the city of Kublai. The walls were completed in 1437. Population gathered about the southern front, probably using the material of the old city of Yenking, and the excrescence so formed was, in 1544, enclosed by a wall, and called the “outer city.” It is the same that is usually called by Europeans “the Chinese city.” The ruins of the retrenched northern portion of Kublai’s great rampart are still prominent along their whole extent, so that there is no room for question as to the position or true dimensions of the Cambaluc of the Middle Ages; and it is most probable, indeed it is almost a necessity, that the present palace stands on the lines of Kublai’s palace.
The city, under the name of Cambaluc, was constituted into an archiepiscopal see by Pope Clement V. in 1307, in favour of the missionary Franciscan John of Montecorvino; but though some successors were nominated it seems probable that no second metropolitan ever actually occupied the seat.
Maps of the 16th and 17th centuries often show Cambaluc in an imaginary region to the north of China, a part of the misconception that has prevailed regarding Cathay (see China). The name is often in popular literature written Cambalu, and is by Longfellow accented in verse Cámbălú. But this spelling originates in an accidental error in Ramusio’s Italian version, which, till lately, was the chief channel through which Marco Polo’s book was popularly known. The original (French) MSS. all agree with the etymology in calling it Cambaluc, which should be accented Cămbáluc.