Mongolia's capital and and by far largest city lies in the centre of the country, at an elevation of about 1,310 metres in a valley on the Tuul River. It is truly the cultural, industrial, and financial heart of the country, the centre of Mongolia's road network, and connected by rail to both the Trans-Siberian Railway in Russia and the Chinese railway system.
The population of Ulaanbaatar is over a million, almost half of all people living in Mongolia. A city of modern buildings and whole neighbourhoods where people still live in "gers", the round felt tents of the nomads. It is the coldest capital in the world with brutal winters, with temperatures that may plunge below -40°C. Air pollution can be very bad in the winter when so many people try to keep warm.
A Buddhist monastic centre was founded in 1639 in the area where the city now lies; it was called Örgöö, ("Residence"), known to the outside world as Urga; in 1706 its name changed to Khüree ("Camp"), as it consisted of gers and was moved 28 times, each location chosen ceremonially, until 1778, when it stayed at its present location and became a major centre. When Mongolia proclaimed its independence in 1911 the secular government and the palace of the Bogd Khan was located here and the town's name changed from Ikh Khüree (Great Camp) to Niislel Khüree (Capital Camp). When the Bogd Khan died in 1924 and the Mongolian People's Republic was proclaimed, the capital's name was changed to Ulaanbaatar ("Red Hero", which could refer to Sükhbaatar who had died the year before, although no name was ever quoted). In the west the city was often still referred to as Urga or Kulun, the Chinese name of Khüree and later as Ulan Bator, the Russian spelling (Улан-Батор).
From the 1930s the city was built in typical Soviet style with big apartment blocks, large theatres and enormous government buildings, destroying most temples and monasteries, some of those subsequently rebuilt and restored. The centre of the city is the vast Sükhbaataryn Talbai (Sükhbaatar Square) with its large marble construction in front of the Parliament House and statue of Genghis Khan, flanked by his son Ögedei en grandson Kublai Khan; the wide Enkh Taivny Örgön Chölöö, (Peace Avenue), the main street, stretches on both sides, with shops, cafés and busy traffic. There are many points of interest, like the Gandan Monastery, the Winter Palace of the Bogd Khan, the National Museum and many others.