The Erdene Zuu Monastery is probably the earliest surviving Buddhist monastery in Mongolia. Located in Uvurkhangai Province, approximately 2 km north-east from the center of Kharkhorin and adjacent to the ancient city of, it is part of the Orkhon Valley Cultural Landscape World Heritage Site. The monastery is affiliated with the Gelug sect of Tibetan Buddhism.
Abtai Sain Khaan, ruler of the Khalkha Mongols and grandfather of Zanabazar, the first ordered construction of the Erdene Zuu monastery in 1585 after his meeting with the 3rd Dalai Lama and the declaration of Tibetan Buddhism as the state religion of Mongolia. Stones from the nearby ruins of the ancient Mongol capital of Karakorum were used in its construction. Planners attempted to create a surrounding wall that resembled a Tibetan Buddhist rosary featuring 108 stupas (108 being a sacred number in Buddhism) but this objective was probably never achieved. The monastery’s temple walls were painted, and the Chinese-style roof covered with green tiles.
The monastery was damaged in 1688 during one of the many wars between Zuun Gars and Khalkha Mongols. Locals dismantled the wooden fortifications of the abandoned monastery. It was rebuilt in the 18th century and by 1872 had a full 62 temples and housed up to 1000 monks.