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Known as Yunnan-Fu until the 1920s, today it is a prefecture-level city and the political, economic, communications and cultural centre of the province as well as the seat of the provincial government.
In 1276 it was founded by the Mongol rulers as Kunming County and became the provincial capital of Yunnan.
The city grew as a trading center between the southwest and the rest of China.
It is considered by scholars to have been the city of Yachi Fu (Duck Pond Town) where people had used cowries as cash and ate their meat raw, as described by the 13th-century Venetian traveler Marco Polo who traveled to the area and wrote about his fascination with the place.
Founded in 765, Kunming was known to the Chinese as Tuodong (拓东) city in the Kingdom of Nanzhao (737–902) during the 8th and 9th centuries.
Tuodong later became part of the successor Kingdom of Dali (937–1253).
Located in the middle of the Yunnan–Guizhou Plateau, Kunming is located at an altitude of 1,900 metres (6,234 feet) above sea level and at a latitude just north of the Tropic of Cancer.