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March 5, 2015 14:42


The reconstructed capital of the Golden Horde Sarai-Batu appeared in 2011 on the territory of the settlement of Selitrennoye thanks to the movie by Andrei Proshkin “The Horde”.

The story of a journey of the Moscow metropolitan Aleksii (“St. Alexii” was the name of the script by Yuri Arabov) to the Horde was filmed at the historic site, at a distance of 130 km from Astrakhan, near the settlement of the genuine Sarai. After completion of filming process it was decided to leave the motion-picture sets that have been built for three months for future use.

First of all, they will be used for tourism. We cannot call what we now see on the shores of Akhtuba an exactly reconstructed city. It is rather a collective image of the Horde capital. The real one is preserved only in the foundations gone under the ground and the rich cultural layer.

The city is compared with Pompeii, but it is one thousand years younger and suffered from no global catastrophes. We can only guess about the way it looked and why it completely disappeared from the face of the Earth in a relatively short period of time. The creators of the motion-picture sets paid attention to the description of historians and archaeological findings from the Selitrennoye settlement.

For example, they recreated the external signs of the exotic water supply system of Sarai-Batu: a huge wheel with pitchers that were gradually filled with water from the river. Another source of inspiration for the film artists was presented by the medieval cities of Central Asia - Bukhara, Samarkand, Harezm, as well as Arab cities with their old clay adobe houses.

The Selitrennoye (“Nitric”) ancient settlement representing the remnants of the medieval capital of the Golden Horde that are now hidden under the ground is called an open-air museum. The capital of the Horde is most often referred to as Sarai-Batu, which means the Palace of Batu. The official name is Sarai-al-Maqrus, the Palace blessed by God. The name Old Sarai refers to the popular belief that the city was chronologically the first capital of the Golden Horde. Later it moved to a new city - New Sarai. Today historians doubt both this version and chronology. The earliest archaeological findings on the Selitrennoye ancient settlement were discovered already in the XIV century. Perhaps the city was actually founded by Batu Khan as a typical yurt city of nomads, then it was built up with brick and wooden buildings, and it reached prosperity in half a century, already under the reign of Uzbek Khan. According to another hypothesis, Sarai-al-Maqrus was exactly New Sarai built during Uzbek’s reign, and Old Sarai was situated in the area of the Krasnoyarskoe ancient settlement, or somewhere else in the lower reach of Volga, lower than the Selitrennoye settlement. When it got washed off by high waves of the Caspian Sea, the new capital was moved to the place that the water did not reach. Anyway, Sarai-Batu stood in the heart of the huge state of the Mongols, at the crossing of roads from Europe to India and from China to Europe.

Descriptions of contemporaries and researches of archaeologists create an image of a civilized, multiethnic and multifaith city with the area of 36 square kilometers and nearly one hundred thousand inhabitants. The faith tolerance of Horde is supported by the fact that in 1261 Sarai became the centre of Sarai Orthodox episcopate, and later of Catholic episcopate. The city, of course, had the Khan’s palace, city estates of emirs and crafts quarters, a mosque and churches of other denominations, bathes and a market, numerous necropoleis, s sewerage and a water supply system of a special design. The logical question how a city could disappear if not without a trace, then from the face of the Earth, has an answer. Sarai-Batu gradually decayed together with the Mongol Empire, and then was officially dismantled. It is believed that under the reign Ivan the Terrible - and on his instructions – the Astrakhan Kremlin was built of bricks from Sarai. And local residents dismantled the abandoned Tatar capital to get building material without any decrees. 


One of the most popular legends related to Sarai-Batu is the legend of the two golden statues of horses in full size that decorated the Khan’s palace. One of them was allegedly buried with some Horde ruler, and the second horse was lost and excited the imagination of hunters for a long time. They say it was taken away and hidden by the Don Cossacks that served in the armies of the Golden Horde before the Battle of Kulikovo.

The Selitrennoye settlement seems to have very little things left for a modern tourist. Excursions are organized only in summer, and you can see mainly archaeological works here: disclosed foundations, basements and fragments of buildings. But the place itself, steppe and mounds over Akhtuba, dust storms in May and the land literally packed with ancient artifacts creates a very special atmosphere.

The latter is complemented by the historical complex “Sarai-Batu” in a few kilometers upstream – the motion-picture sets of the Khan’s capital built for “The Horde” movie.

Tips for visiting Sarai-Batu

We recommend you to take eye protectors if you come here in May in case of sandstorms. They should fit tight – just like watersport goggles. A single ticket gives you the right to look at the settlement and the yurt of shaman. Additional “entertainment” is the torture room (also from the film), but it is paid separately.

You can also try medieval costumes on, get pictures of yourselves against the background of the set design, try shooting with a bow or a crossbow. Sarai-Batu has a yurt-restaurant with air conditioning and very tasty food. There are toilets and a drinking well nearby. You can arrange a corporate party here on prior agreement.

A souvenir shop will appear soon. It is also planned to build hotel. The complex territory has another unexpected object - a platform for tactical paintball of the “Horde” paintball club. It is available both to professionals and amateurs, by agreement with the administration. Photographers can put up a tent next to the settlement and agree on a night shooting at the facility with the manager.

A rock festival is held near Sarai-Batu in August. The complex is open all year round, except June – midges are severe in the steppe in this month. The yurt-restaurant is open from late April to the middle of September, with a break for June. In winter it is closed.

Read more about Sarai-Batu... 

Read more about Astrakhan Region...



Author: Anna Dorozhkina

Tags: Sarai-Batu Selitrennoye Astrakhan Region   

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