Reputed to be the first Buddhist temple in Mongolia, founded in 1586 by the Altai Khan at the time Buddhism was introduced to Mongolia. Stones from the ruins of Karakorum were used in construction. It was a large complex of temples with over 1,000 monks. It is surrounded by a wall featuring 108 stupas, 108 being a sacred number, the number of beads in a Buddhist rosary.|
Vandalized by invading Ming Dynasty in the 1680's it was repaired off and on later, only to be vandalized again by the Communists in 1937. But for some reason it was not totally destroyed and many of its treasures have survived.
Stalin forced the Mongolian Communists to conduct the purge of Buddhism, including the slaughter of all monks over 20 years old (some say tens of thousands), Never the less, it is said that Stalin who personally spared this temple from total destruction, perhaps at the request of President Franklin Roosevelt!
During the Communist period Erdene Zuu existed as a museum only. The only functioning monastery during these times was in Mongolia was Gandan Khiid Monastery in the capital, Ulaanbaatar. However, after the fall of Communism in Mongolia in 1990, the monastery was turned back to the lamas and Erdene Zuu again became a place of worship. Today Erdene Zuu remains an active Buddhist monastery as well as a museum that is open to tourists.
On a hill outside the monastery sits a stone phallus. The phallus is said to retain the sexual impulses of the monks and ensure their good behavior.