You must know that for three months of the year, December, January, and February, the Great Khan resides in the capital city of Cathay (China), which is called Cambaluc (Beijing), and which is at the north-eastern extremity of the country. In that city stands his great palace, and now I will tell you what it is like.
It is enclosed all round by a great wall forming a square, each side of which is a mile in length. It is also very thick, and a good ten paces in height, whitewashed and loop-holed all round. At each angle of the wall there is a very fine and rich palace in which the war-harness of the Emperor is kept, such as bows and arrows, saddles and bridles, and bowstrings, and everything necessary for an army. Also midway between every two of these corner palaces there is another of the like' so that in the whole enclosure you find eight vast palaces where the Great Lord's harness of war are stored. Only one kind of article is assigned to each palace; thus, one is stored with bows, a second with saddles, a third with bridles, and so on.
The great wall has five gates on its southern face, the middle one being the great gate which is never opened on any occasion except when the Great Khan himself goes forth or enters. Close on either side of this great gate is a smaller one by which all other people pass; and then towards each angle is another great gate, also open to people in general; so that on that side there are five gates in all.
Inside this wall there is a second wall. Inside this wall, there are eight palaces like those of the outer wall, and stored like them with the Lord's harness of war. This wall also has five gates on the southern face, and one gate on each of the other faces. In the middle of the second enclosure is the Lord's Great Palace.
This is the greatest palace that ever was. Towards the north it is in contact with the outer wall, whilst towards the south there is a vacant space which the barons and the soldiers are constantly traversing. The palace itself has no upper story, but is all on the ground floor, except the basement is raised a bit above the surrounding soil. The roof is very lofty, and the walls of the palace are all covered with gold and silver. They are also adorned with representations of dragons (sculptured and gilt), beasts and birds, knights and gods, and other subjects. And on the ceiling, too, you see nothing but gold and silver and painting. (On each of the four sides there is a great marble staircase leading to the top of the marble wall, and forming the approach to the palace.)
The hall of the palace is so large that it could easily dine 6,000 people; and it is quite a marvel to see how many rooms there are besides. The building is altogether so vast, so rich, and so beautiful, that no man on earth could design anything superior to it. The outside of the roof is all colored with vermilion and yellow and green and blue and other colors, which are fixed with a varnish so fine and exquisite that they shine like crystal, and lend a luster to the palace so it can be seen from a great distance. This roof is made too with such strength and solidity that it is fit to last forever.
On the interior side of the palace are large buildings with halls and chambers, where the emperor's private property is placed, such as his treasures of gold, silver, gems, pearls, and gold plate, and in which reside the ladies and secondary wives. These rooms are only for him, and no one else has access to them.
Between the two walls of the enclosure which I have described, there are fine parks and beautiful trees bearing a variety of fruits. There are beasts, such as white stags and fallow deer, gazelles and roebucks, and fine squirrels of various sorts, and all manner of other beautiful creatures, that the whole place is full of them. (The parks are covered with abundant grass; and since the roads through them are all paved and raised above the surface, they never become muddy.)
To the northwest there extends a fine lake, containing fish of different kinds which the emperor ordered put in there, so that whenever he desires any he can have them. A river enters this lake and flows from it, but there is a grating of iron or brass put up so that the fish cannot escape.
On the north side of the palace, there is a hill which has been made (from the earth dug out of the lake). It is a good hundred paces in height and a mile in compass. This hill is entirely covered with trees that never lose their leaves, but remain ever green. And I assure you that wherever a beautiful tree may exist, and the emperor gets news of it, he sends for it and has it transported with all its roots and the earth attached to them, and planted on that hill of his. No matter how big the tree may be, he gets it carried by his elephants; and in this way he has got together the most beautiful collection of trees in the whole world. He has also ordered the whole hill to be covered with green stones. Thus not only are the trees all green, but the hill itself is all green; and there is nothing to be seen on it that is not green; and it is rightly called the Green Mount.
On top of the hill there is another fine big palace which is all green inside and out. Thus, the hill, the trees, and the palace form together a charming spectacle. It is marvelous to see them. Everybody who sees them is delighted. The Great Khan built this beautiful prospect for the comfort and solace and enjoyment of his heart.