From the years 108 BC to 450 AD the city of Jiaohe was the capital of the Anterior Cheshi Kingdom , concurrent with the Han Dynasty, , and Southern and Northern Dynasties in China. It was an important site along the Silk Road trade route leading west, and was adjacent to the Korla and Karasahr kingdoms. From 450 AD until 640 AD it became Jiao prefecture in the Tang Dynasty, and in 640 AD it was made the seat of the new Jiaohe County. From 640 AD until 658 AD it was also the seat of the Protector General of the Western Regions, the highest level military post of a Chinese military commander posted in the west. Since the beginning of the 9th century AD it had become Jiaohe prefecture of the Uyghur Khaganate, until their kingdom was conquered by the Kyrgyz soon after in the year 840.
The city was built on a large islet in the middle of a river which formed natural defenses, which would explain why the city lacked any sort of walls. Instead, steep cliffs on all sides of the river acted as natural walls. The layout of the city had eastern and western residential districts, while the northern district was reserved for Buddhist sites of temples and stupas. Along with this there are notable graveyards and the ruins of a large government office in the southern part of the eastern district.
It was finally abandoned after its destruction during an invasion by the Mongols led by Genghis Khan in the 13th century.
The site has been protected by the PRC government since 1961. There are now attempts to protect this site and other Silk Route city ruins. The Silk Route is applying for listing as a .
The ruins of Jiaohe are mentioned in the mystery novel '' Mrs. Polifax on the China Station'', by Dorothy Gilman.