Though Hohhot has a long settlement history dating as far back as 100 B.C., modern day Hohhot was established by the Mongols in the early 1500's. Altan Khan established the first walled city (the Old City) in Hohhot and made it his capital as a symbol of Mongol power. At this same time he ordered two lamaseries, the current Dazhao and Xiaozhao temples, to be built. This establishment changed the region from a military focus to that of a social and economic center as well as a hub for Buddhism in Northern China.
During the transition from the Ming to Qing dynasties (17th century), the Manchus defeated the Mongolians and took control of Hohhot. By 1736, the Manchu's had built their own city in Hohhot which still remains as the "New City." The existence of two cities made Hohhot one of the "twin" cities that the Manchus often developed.
Though commerce was done between the two cities during the day, the Mongols and Chinese resided in the "old city" and the Manchus lived in the "new city." Each city was even spiritually separated as each had its own "city god." Hohhot was politically integrated in 1914 but the two cities still remained separate - the "old City" with remnants of the past and the "new City" with a vision to the future. Since 1949, Hohhot has grown focusing on developing the area between the two cities. The walls around the "new city" were torn down in 1954 and the north gate of the "old city" was dismantled in 1960 to accommodate traffic.
Being the hub of Tibetan Buddhism for the region, Hohhot was at one time known as "temple city" because of the more than 200 temples that were there. There were a variety of Chinese and Mongolian temples devoted to gods such as the horse spirit, the god of war, god of literature, god of wealth, and the dragon king. By the Cultural Revolution all of Hohhot's 56 Chinese temples had been destroyed or abandoned, with the exception of Da Zhao and Xilituzhao. These temples have a distinctly Mongolian look with bright blue tiles, which are commonly used by the Mongols but rarely by the Chinese or Tibetans. Also, the decorative paintings and roof ornaments have a Mongolian theme.
There are 29 people groups located in Inner Mongolia with approximately 10 groups found in Hohhot. The Mongol, Hui Muslim, Manchu, Daur, Ewenki and other minority groups comprise about 15 percent of Hohhot's population while Han Chinese comprise the remaining 85 percent.