With this in mind, let’s take a look at what is far and away the most interesting of the many conspiracy theories in circulation just now: the belief, remarkably widespread in fringe culture these days, that the mighty Tartarian Empire-one of the great civilizations of human history, which ruled directly or indirectly over most of Eurasia well into the 19th century and had a substantial presence in the Americas as well-has been erased from the history books. After the empire was destroyed by titanic floods of mud, the story has it, its very existence was suppressed by a conspiracy, and its remaining traces are being demolished as we speak.
The main thing that sets Tartarian architecture apart, however, is that unlike modern architecture, it’s not sickeningly ugly
Another, far more interesting body of evidence is the presence of a particular set of architectural styles across much of the world. Domes are another. Among the venues where Tartarian architecture can be seen in its full glory are surviving pictures of the great World’s Fairs of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. These, believers say, were actually the capitals of Tartarian colonial governments, which were destroyed and replaced by ugly modern buildings once the empire fell; all that yammering about world’s fairs is simply part of the coverup.
As I noted above, whether all this is true is the least interesting question concerning it. If, dear reader, you believe in the existence of the Tartarian Empire, I’d encourage you to skip the next five paragraphs entirely. The point of this essay isn’t to debunk your beliefs or to tell you how wrong you are-for reasons we’ll get to in a bit, that’s a waste of time. Bon voyage, and we’ll meet again further down the page.
With that said, let’s start by talking about some actual history. People in much of Europe used to refer to the Mongols as Tartars, as a product of the same sort of historico-linguistic tangle that has people in the English-speaking world referring to the nation of Deutschland as “Germany.” From the fourteenth through the nineteenth centuries, maps and geography books in western Europe used the label “Tartary” for the realm ruled by Genghis Khan and his successors, in the same way they labeled the whole northern coast of Africa indiscriminately as “Barbary.” The portion of Tartary from the Urals east to the Pacific Ocean, the vast and (to western Europeans) little-known region that Russians call Sibir’ and most people now call Siberia, was called Great Tartary in English and Grand Tartarie in French, and appears accordingly on maps well into the nineteenth century. The same sources occasionally give a flag for Great Tartary, as they do for every other nation, whether it actually had a flag or not; the Tartarian flag has a black winged critter-usually a wyvern or a gryphon, but sometimes an owl-on a gold background.
Believers in the Tartarian Empire point to old maps that include “Great Tartary” and other historical tidbits of the same general kind as one body of evidence for their claim
Read travelers’ accounts of Great Tartary from these same years-there are plenty of those, by the way-and you’ll find conditions not all that different from those in the American West in the first half of the nineteenth century. The empire of Genghis Khan had long since disintegrated into an assortment of smaller khanates in the grassland regions of Siberia, while a great many tribal societies dwelt in the forest and tundra regions. Travel through that vast space was on roughly the same terms that Lewis and Clark faced on their expedition to the Pacific. You could find beautiful cities with splendid domes in the southern reaches of Tartary-Saounted to clusters of yurts on vast prairies, little villages on riverbends surrounded by trackless forests, stone lamaseries clinging to the sides of mountains, enigmatic ruins of lost civilizations, and immense stretches of land where the traces of human presence were very few and far between.