The Shambhala palace was said to be built of gold, silver, turquoise, coral, pearl, emerald, moon crystal, and other precious stones. This is similiar also to the description of Kai Khusraw's palace in Kang-Dêz which had seven walls of gold, silver, steel, bronze, iron, crystal and precious stones. Prester John's palace was equally rich but with more of a wood construction described in his letter of 1165:
The palace in which our Superemincency resides is built after the pattern of the castle built by the apostle Thomas [Judas the Twin] for the Indian king Gundoforus. Celings joists, and architrave are of Sethym wood, the roof ebony, which can never catch fire. Over the gable of the palace are, at the extremities, two golden apples, in each of which are two carbuncles, so that the gold may shine by day and the carbuncles by night. The greater gates of the palace are of sardius with the horn of the horned snake inwrought so that no one can bring poison within. The other portals are of ebony; the windows are of crystal; the tables are partly of gold, partly of amethyst; the columns supporting the tables are partly of ivory, partly of amethyst. The court in which we watch the jousting is floored with onyx in order to increase the courage of the combatants. In the palace at night, nothing is burned for light, but wicks supplied with balsam.
The description above is apparently copied to a great extent by John of Mandeville who adds some additional details:
And above the chief tower of the palace be two round pommels of gold, and in everych of them be two carbuncles great and large, that shine full bright upon the night. And the principal gates of his palace be of precious stone that men clepe sardonyx, and the border and the bars be of ivory. And the windows of the halls and chambers be of crystal. And the tables whereon men eat, some be of emeralds, some of amethyst, and some of gold, full of precious stones; and the pillars that bear up the tables be of the same precious stones. And the degrees to go up to his throne, where he sitteth at the meat, one is of onyx, another is of crystal, and another of jasper green, another of amethyst, another of sardine, another of cornelian, and the seventh, that he setteth on his feet, is of chrysolite. And all these degrees be bordered with fine gold, with the tother precious stones, set with great pearls orient. And the sides of the siege of his throne be of emeralds, and bordered with gold full nobly, and dubbed with other precious stones and great pearls. And all the pillars in his chamber be of fine gold with precious stones, and with many carbuncles, that give great light upon the night to all people. And albeit that the carbuncles give light right enough, natheles, at all times burneth a vessel of crystal full of balm, for to give good smell and odour to the emperor, and to void away all wicked airs and corruptions.
One of the startling similarities between the palaces of Prester John and the Rigden of Shambhala are mirrors or lenses that allow the ruler to see everything that happens in the kingdom. Those in Shambhala were described as light-giving crystals with lenses. The following comes from the 1165 letter of Prester John:
Before our palace stands a mirror, the ascent to which consists of five and twenty steps of porpyry and serpintine ... This mirror is guarded day and night by three thousand men. We look therein and behold all that is taking place in every province and region subject to our sceptre.
Although many aspects of the great palace were probably fantastic, the notice of such a great structure persists into latter times. In many ways, the fabulous palace matches descriptions of the New Jerusalem in Revelations. Also it appears the structure is transferred to the West in Parzival where it is found as the Castle of Wonders in Montsalvat. This castle has sort of an animistic spirit and helps the seekers in their search for the Grail.
One interesting note of a great palace comes from Marco Polo in his description of Cipangu during the 13th century. Although Cipangu was the name for Japan, the Italian traveler apparently mixes up descriptions of two different places.
First of all he describes Cipangu at the beginning of his relation of the "isles of India." He also places the island in the 'Sea of Manzi,' that is the sea off the coast of southern China which was known to Europeans as Manzi as compared to northern China which was known as Cathay.
Manzi comes from the Chinese words meaning "Southern Barbarian," while Cathay is derived from the Kara-Khitai empire, a Turko-Mongol kingdom that ruled northern China prior to the Mongol invasion.
He also says the island is very rich in gold and pearls, none of which is true of Japan. On the other hand, he describes the Mongol invasion of Japan in his description of Cipangu.
Thus, it's not entirely sure whether the Cipangu palace Polo describes is in Japan or in the Indies location, but it is of interest nonetheless:
I will tell you a wonderful thing about the palace of the lord of that island. You must know that he has a great palace which is entirely roofed with fine gold, just as our churches are roofed with lead, insomuch that it would scarcely be possible to estimate its value. Moreover, all the pavement of the palace, and the floors of its chambers, are entirely of gold, in plates like slabs of stone, a good two fingers thick; and the windows also are of gold, so that altogether the richness of this palace is past all bounds and all belief.
Prester John and the Rigden were also associated with special gardens -- the Garden of Eden and Malaya, respectively. Malaya is described as a "pleasure grove" erected by Rigden Sucandra, while Eden is the garden planted by God.
During the time of Prester John's early letters and the work of Wolfram von Eschenbach, the Garden of Eden was squarely placed in the extreme East, in India (the Indies).
Here is a table of correspondences showing how both kingdoms closely resemble contemporary descriptions given of Sanfotsi and Zabag.
|Description||Prester John's kingdom||Shambhala|| Sanfotsi/|
|Located in the "Indies" during the same general period|| |
|Cannibals are present|
|Brahmins included among their subjects|
|The use of fire-proof clothing|
|Fabulous natural wealth|
|Giant eagle-like bird|
|Adultery is strictly prohibited.|
|Kings had great knowledge|
|Kingdoms existed during same general time|
|Royal succession not by primogeniture|
|Land of Gold|
Paul Kekai Manansala