It was my husband who gave me the idea of this post when he remarked, "certainly you've heard of Xanadu!" Admittedly, I had not. He told me how it's often used in reference to a mythical paradise. Well, of course this meant I had to go and dig for more info.
The search led me to the 1941 American film, Citizen Kane, directed by and starring Orson Welles. The black and white film is considered the greatest movie of all time, primarily for innovative cinematography, its music and narrative story structure.
In a review written by film critic, James Berardinelli:
The movie opens with an unforgettable image of a distant, fog-shrouded castle on a hill. It's a classic gothic shot, and goes a long way towards establishing Citizen Kane's mood. We quickly learn that this place, called Xanadu, is the dwelling of America's Kubla Khan, Charles Foster Kane (Welles), a one-time newspaper magnate who could have become President if not for an ill-advised extramarital affair. Xanadu, in the words of the faux newsreel that gives a brief history of Kane's life, is the "costliest monument of a man to himself." Any resemblance to The Ranch, William Randolph Hearst's real-life San Simeon abode, is not coincidental.
But I also learned that Xanadu is far more than a metaphor for Hearst Castle. Xanadu was a real place, designed by Chinese architect Liu Bingzhong to be a summer residence for Kublai Khan; built from 1252 to 1256 during the Mongol invasion.
For just a smidgen more history, it was originally the town of Kaiping, China, and in 1264 was renamed Shangdu, the Supreme Capital. More than a hundred years later in 1368, Mongol history tells of the last of the Khans, Toghon Temur, lamenting the losses of both Daidu (Beijing) and Kaiping Xanadu (Shangdu), referring to Kublai Khan as founder, and himself as the cause of their fall.
Then I found this excerpt from what is believed to be one of the most complete descriptions of the city, written by Marco Polo, who is thought to have visited there in 1275.
There is at this place a very fine marble Palace, the rooms of which are all gilt and painted with figures of men and beasts and birds, and with a variety of trees and flowers, all executed with such exquisite art that you regard them with delight and astonishment.
This would partly explain why Xanadu has come to be a metaphor for decadence, or even a mythical paradise.
The poem Kubla Khan or A Vision in a Dream, written (1797/1798) by English poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge -- probably the main reason for the metaphoric meaning of Xanadu today -- has also inspired these other two references I discovered during my research.
- Xanadu, a song (pub 1977) written by the Canadian rock band, Rush, and
- Coleridge's poem is actually quoted in Xanadu, a 1980's Broadway surprise hit musical starring Olivia Newton-John.
This last is my favorite. The musical is about a Greek muse named Kira, who comes down from Mt. Olympus to Venice Beach, California in 1980, with the mission to inspire Sonny, an artist, to design the first roller disco. (No, I am not kidding.) And of course she falls in love, which means her jealous sisters have to interfere.
Conclusion: The 1200's, 1790's, 1940's, 1970's and 1980's may have had Xanadu...but we have Hearst Castle, Avatar and...Twilight. :~))
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