Ürümqi (/uːˈruːmtʃiː/ or /ʊˈrʊmtʃiː/; Chinese: 乌鲁木齐; pinyin: Wūlǔmùqí, Uyghur: ئۈرۈمچى, ULY: Ürümchi, UYY: Ürümqi; from Oirat "beautiful pasture") is the capital of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of the People's Republic of China in Northwest China. Ürümqi was a major hub on the Silk Road during China's Tang dynasty, and developed its reputation as a leading cultural and commercial center during Qing dynasty in 19th Century.
With an estimated population of 3.5 million in 2015, Ürümqi is the largest city in China's western interior as well as in Central Asia in terms of the population. According to the Guinness Book of Records, Ürümqi has earned a place as the most remote city from any sea in the world. Ürümqi has seen a huge economical development since the 1990s and currently serves as a regional transport node, a cultural, political and commercial center.
The ancient Jushi people were said to be the first inhabitants in this land, making a nomadic living on the north slope of the Tianshan Mountains. Although Ürümqi is situated near the northern route of the Silk Road, the present city is a relatively young city. It was not called Ürümqi until the time of the Dzungar Khanate. An older settlement named Luntai was located nearby, around 10 kilometres (6 miles) from the southern suburb of present-day Ürümqi. Luntai was set up by the Tang government during the 22nd year of Emperor Taizong's reign (648 AD) in the ancient town seat of Urabo as part of the Protectorate General to Pacify the West that controlled Xinjiang. It was a seat of local government, and collected taxes from the caravans along the northern route of the Silk Road. After the Tang retreated from the Western Regions, the region came under the control of the Uyghurs of the Khaganate and Gaochang/Qocho. From Tang to Qing Dynasty, there was little information about the Ürümqi area, and there appeared to be no permanent settlement here for most of this period. The Mongols referred to the wider area as Bishbalik meaning five cities, referring to the five towns that surrounded the present-day Ürümqi area.
The Oirats Dzungar tribes that formed the Dzungar Khanate were the last major power to control Ürümqi before the Manchus gained control of Xinjiang, and their language gave Ürümqi its modern-day name. In the Ming dynasty, there was a record of a place at Jiujiawan 5 kilometres (3 miles) to the west of present Ürümqi, which may have been the Dzunghar town that was later destroyed during the Qing conquest. The Mongolians also used the area as herding ground in this period. Steppe peoples had used the location, the pass between the Bogda Shan to the east and the Tian Shan to the west, connecting the Dzungar Basin to the north and the Turpan Depression to the south.
Ürümqi remained a small town, and less important than the oasis and Silk Road trade center Turpan 200 km (120 mi) to the southeast. Fighting for the control of Dzungaria led to the Khoshuuts (now classified as Mongols) leaving Ürümqi for Qinghai and Tibet in the 1620s and 1630s. The Uyghurs were introduced into the Ürümqi area in the 18th century by the Dzunghars who moved them from the west Tarim region to be taranchis or farmers in Ürümqi.
The largest city in western China, Ürümqi has earned a place in the Guinness Book of Records as the most remote city from any sea in the world. It is about 2,500 kilometres (1,600 mi) from the nearest coastline as Ürümqi is the closest major city to the Eurasian pole of inaccessibility, although Karamay and Altay, both in Xinjiang, are closer. The city has an administrative area of 10,989 square kilometres (4,243 sq mi) and has an average elevation of 800 metres (2,600 ft).
The location 43°40′52″N 87°19′52″E in the southwestern suburbs of Ürümqi (Ürümqi County) was designated by local geography experts as the "center point of Asia" in 1992, and a monument to this effect was erected there in the 1990s. The site is a local tourist attraction.
Although surrounded by deserts (the Gurbantünggüt in the north and the Taklamakan in the south), the Ürümqi area is naturally watered by a number of small rivers flowing from the snow-capped Tian Shan mountains: the main range of the Tian Shan in south of the city (Ürümqi County), and the Bogda Shan east of the city (Dabancheng District). A network consisting of thousands of miles of canals, reservoirs, and underground tunnels called karez, redistribute the water throughout the extensively irrigated area along the foothills of the mountain range. It compromizes an ancient irrigation system built 2,000 years ago.
There are 20,000 glaciers in Xinjiang – nearly half of all the glaciers in China. Since the 1950s, Xinjiang's glaciers have retreated by between 21 percent to 27 percent due to global warming. Tianshan Glacier No. 1 (一号冰川), origin of Ürümqi River, is the largest glacier near a major city in China, but has already split into two smaller glaciers.