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Orheiul Vechi Archaeological Landscape

Date of Submission: 22/02/2017
Criteria: (ii)(v)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Moldova
State, Province or Region:
Orhei District, Trebujeni com
Coordinates: N47 18 20 E28 58 30
Ref.: 6220
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Description

The Orheiul Vechi Archaeological Landscape is located in central-eastern part of Moldova and lies along the gorge of the lower course of the Răut River, 14 km upstream from the confluence of the Răut and the Dniester Rivers. This is an extremely strategic position. The Răut links it with most of central and northern Moldova, while the Dniester is the most important trade route between northeast Carpathians and the Black Sea Basin. Administratively, the Landscape comprises the territory of the Trebujeni and Butuceni villages, belonging to the Trebujeni commune of Orhei district. At the same time, the unusual and severe terrain around the Landscape render it perhaps the most naturally defensible in the region.

The Landscape resembles a hemispherical amphitheater of 3,500 meters (East - West) x 1,500 meters (North – South), one that is defined by the Răut’s steep and high banks. The extremely tortuous course of the Răut, 15 to 20 meters wide, has carved embedded meanders, which together stretch for 7,000 meters, through limestone bedrock. The downstream left bank is nearly upright and reaches ca. 100-148 meters in altitude. At the western and southeastern ends of the escarpment, two natural passages, respectively 80 meters and 300 meters wide, link this naturally fortified central areas to the surrounding region.

In the southern part of the Landscape, the Răut has cut a very sharp loop that encloses, from the north, south and west, the limestone Promontory "Butuceni". The length of the promontory is 3,000 meters (East - West), and the widths varies between 15 meters in its western end and 300 meters in the eastern one. Its altitude gently increases eastwards, from 1 meter at its western end to 120 meters at the eastern one. North of the “Butuceni” Promontory, on the opposite side of the Răut, the “Peştera” Promontory is situated. It is oval-shaped, 2,500 meters in length (East – West), and 850 meters wide (North – South). The “Peştera” Promontory is delimited from the south, east and north by the next Răut’s loop. In contrast with the Butuceni, the Peştera Promontory has gentle slopes, which are covered with soil of a type that is the most fertile in the world (chernozems).

The Landscape is dramatic and beautiful because of its highly unusual geomorphology, and it and its surroundings are rich in subsistence resources: chernozem soils that are enormously productive, meadows and forests rich in wild fruits and medicinal herbs, many springs of fresh water, varied aquatic and terrestrial fauna. At the same time, the area abounds in building materials: limestone, sand, clay and wood. The Landscape provides excellent natural defensive conditions, not just the natural escarpments, but also because it is at a generally higher elevation than the wide surrounding areas, while the Răut and its tributaries ensure the connection with the Black Sea, where martime trade flourished since the 5th Millennium BC. These factors combine to render the landscape of Orheiul Vechi very different from the rest of the region. That is why, since prehistoric times, humans in large numbers were attracted to the area. Therefore, the density of archaeological evidence is unusually high within the Landscape.

Archaeological research carried out at the „Peştera” Promontory has uncovered many well preserved settlements. The earliest of them is a Late Paleolithic (ca. 30 – 20,000 BC) camp site. Several long-term rural settlements were uncovered at the gentle slopes of the „Peştera” Promontory. One of such settlements dates from Copper Age (the Cucuteni culture, ca. 4,500 – 4,000 BC), another one dates from the Early Iron Age (Chişinău-Corlăteni culture, ca.1,200 – 900 BC). At the same place, Middle Iron Age (the Getaean culture, ca. 400 – 200 BC), Late Iron Age (the Poieneşti-Lucaşeuca culture, ca. 200 – 100 BC), and early medieval period (ca. 500 – 1,300 AD) sites have been found; some have undergone limited test excavations to establish dates. The well preserved traces of two urban medieval (ca. 1,300 – 1,550 AD) settlements are located at the top of the „Peştera” Promontory. Also, many single potsherds have been found within “Peştera”; they date from the Late Bronze Age (Noua culture, ca.1,400 – 1,100 BC), the Early Iron Age (Saharna-Cozia culture, ca. 900 – 800 BC), as well as from the final stage of the Iron Age (Sântana de Mureş-Cerneahov culture, ca. 200 – 400 AD).

The richest, best preserved and most visible settlements at the “Peştera” Promontory, date from the 12th – 16th centuries AD. They were uncovered by archaeological investigations carried out during the last 60 years. This research revealed that in the 12th – 13th centuries AD, a rural fortified settlement existed at the top of the promontory.

Around 1,241 AD, the Tatar-Mongols conquered this fortified settlement. At the first half of the 14th century, the local chiefs of the Golden Horde founded a town of central-Asian type Şehr al Cedid / Yangı Şeher (meaning New Town) in the same place. Until 1,368, when the Tatar-Mongols left the town because of pressure from Lithuanian and Moldovan armies, it was the most important political, administrative, economic, military and religious center in the region. The archaeological remains of this town include the well preserved ruins of the fortification system, several houses, a palace, a mosque, a caravan serai, a mausoleum, three baths, and many other structures built of local limestone or bricks.

Soon after 1,368 AD, one of the most important Moldovan medieval towns, Orhei, was built on the remains of the Tatar-Mongol town. Archaeological features that pertain to this town include many structures: among them, the fortification system built of earth and wood, which barred the natural entrance to the settlement from west; and the citadel and the residence palace of the regional government. During the middle of the 16th century, at the demand of Turkish authorities, which since the 15th century had been exercising political and military control over the region, the Moldovan authorities destroyed the fortifications. After that, the town decayed and turned into a rural settlement. In the 18th century, the inhabitants abandoned the settlement and moved to the present-day Trebujeni village.

The earliest archaeological evidence at the „Butuceni” Promontory was uncovered around the present-day church. It dates from ca. 900 – 800 BC, and apparently belongs to the Thracian Cozia-Saharna culture. In ca. 500 – 300 BC, the Getaes settled here and transformed the entire promontory in a very well-fortified settlement. During that period, the Butuceni Getaean fortress was one of the most prominent in the region. It is one of the largest fortified settlements (3,000 x 100 m) in the Getaean world of that time. Its fortification system was ingeniously adapted to the natural landscape. It was highly complex, as it combined the natural fortification characteristics of the promontory and the human-made structures. Thus, the high and upright banks, as well as narrowness of the promontory were the main elements of the natural fortification. To enforce it, Getaens barred the promontory by several outer and inner ditches and ramparts. They dug ditches deep in the rock and built the ramparts of local wood, stone and earth. One of the most outstanding and well preserved features uncovered within the Butuceni fortress is the circular sanctuary, which is the earliest of this type in the Getaean world. This settlement is the richest in Greek Pontic imports (displaying a particularly high percentage of amphorae) as compared with other “barbarian” settlements of the region. At the southern foot of the promontory, on the territory of the present-day Butuceni village, an open Getaean satellite settlement dating from the 5th – 3rd centuries BC has been found.

Field investigations at the „Butuceni” Promontory also uncovered traces of the Cucuteni culture (5th – 4th millennium BC), as well as 8th – 9th and 14th century settlements. From ancient times until today, the „Butuceni” promontory was often treated as a sacred place, seen as a source of religious inspiration and an appropriate location for cult practices. Important evidence for religious practices include about 200 caves carved into the limestone escarpments along the Răut. The earliest were dug in the 15th century AD. Many of them were – and some still are – the scenes of religious rituals. Most of the caves were used as shelters for the monks. In some of them, floor plans and other evidence suggests that they were used as churches or places of prayer or rituals. One can see many religious texts and symbols engraved in the cave walls, the earliest dating to the medieval period. Significantly, a still extant Orthodox Church was erected in 1904 at a location close to the Getaean sanctuary and the medieval cave churches and monk shelters.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The Orheiul Vechi Archaeological Landscape is located close to the eastern border of Moldova, in the meeting place of three major geographical zones: the Eurasian steppe, the East-European forest-steppe, and the Carpatho-Danubian basin. It includes an amphitheatre bordered by high rocky banks of the Raut River, as well as two capes within it, streamlined by the meandering course of the river. In this way the landscape is well naturally protected. At the same time, the Răut River links the Landscape with the Dniester River which is the most important route between the Carpathians and the Black Sea. It includes three archaeological sites: Peştera, Butuceni and Maşcăuţi, with remains dating between ca. 30.000 BC and 1800 AD. The exceptional defence potential of the Landscape and its connection to the natural trans-regional communication network have been ingeniously turned into account during the Early Iron Age and the Middle Ages by the societies whose main resources were provided by war, trade and political domination. The most remarkable parts of the Landscape are: the compact group of Getae fortresses (6th – 3rd centuries BC), the Mongol town of Şehr al-Cedid (ca. 1330 – 1369 AD), and the Moldovan town of Orhei (ca. 1370 – 1540 AD). All of them were the most important politic-and-military, economic and cultural centres in the region.

The archaeological remains within the Landscape reveal very intense demographical and cultural interferences, bringing together peoples and cultures specific to the territories between China and Carpathians, Anatolia and Baltic Sea. The many religious edifices uncovered within the Landscape – shrines, temples and monasteries – display the succession and coexistence of different religions: pagan, Muslim and Christian, while the laic buildings combine oriental and Carpatho-Danubian architectural styles.

Human settlements have brought significant transformation to the landscape through building the large defensive structures and digging over 200 caves and grottoes, as well as by the dramatic deforestations. Thus, the Orheiul Vechi Archaeological Landscape is the joint work of nature and man.

Criterion (ii): The Orheiul Vechi Archaeological Landscape is an exceptional example of interference of human values between the Carpathian-Danubian-Pontic and Eurasian areas throughout the early Iron Age and the Middle Ages.

Between the 6th and 3rd centuries BC, the cultural interferences occurred in the Orheiul Vechi area through the movement of people, ideas and goods, between the local Thracian-Getae population, ancient Greek cities from the Black Sea Coast, the Scythian tribes from the Eurasian steppes, and the German tribes from the Baltic Sea Coast. In the 14th – 16th centuries, during the existence of the Mongolian town of Şehr al-Cedid / Yanghi Sehr (= New Town), the most western centre of the Mongol Empire, Tartar-Mongols and other peoples brought by them (Cumans, Pechenegs, Alans etc.) came in great numbers to this town. At the same time, the elements of civilization and culture specific both to the Eurasian nomadic tribes and urban centres from China, Central Asia, Volga Valley, Caucasus and Anatolia introduced in the town through migration, slavery and trade. These interferences are reflected in the urban planning, architecture, monumental art and technology. In this city various religions overlap: pagan, Muslim and Christian, as well as various languages: Mongolian, Arabic, Turkic, Persian, and those of the native population: Slavic and Romanian. Towards the end of this period, in the context of the weakening of the Mongol Empire and the advancement of the European powers, the Christianity spreads throughout the city, thereby affecting, among other things, part of Mongolian elites.

After 1369, the city, under its new name, Orhei, becomes part of the young Christian state named Țara Moldovei. In this new position, the city will exist until ca. 1540. Along with the remaining population of the former town of Șehr al-Cedid, large communities originating from Țara Moldovei settle in this town. Orhei inherits and integrates the oriental culture and civilization of Șehr al-Cedid (planning, architecture, clothing, etc.). At the same time, it quickly turns into a major European urban centre. From this historic moment, the town became one of the most important outposts of Christianity on the border with the Islamic world. Throughout the existence of this town, the most important vectors of civilizational, cultural, economic and political relations become the Western ones: from Hungary, Poland, Russia and Wallachia.

Criterion (v): The Orheiul Vechi Archaeological Landscape is a remarkable example of a traditional human settlement particularly representative of the Getae culture, as well as of the medieval Oriental and Carpatho-Danubian urban civilizations, with the land use characteristic for the high-ranked ancient and medieval polities, being an outstanding example of the interaction between man and nature. As compared with the similar properties in the region, it is the most complex, best preserved and protected archaeological landscape.

During the Iron age (6th – 3rd centuries) this Landscape was owned by the most powerful Getae political entity at the eastern border of the north Thracian world. To ensure control over this strategic place Getae have raised fortresses along the Răut River, cleverly exploiting the defensive properties of the rocky geological formations. Several rural villages situated around these fortresses provided them with foods and row materials.

In 1330 the Mongolian city of Șehr al-Cedid was founded in the central part of the Landscape. Until 1369 this town was a regional capital of the Golden Horde. The town occupied a cape bordered on three sides by steep banks of Răut, with the only possible access from the west. In this way, the town was big enough and well naturally protected. In accordance with the defensive strategy specific to the nomadic Mongols, a military camp with yurt type housing was set up in the access area on the western edge of the city.

In 1370 the town was integrated into the young Christian state Țara Moldovei, and the town has got the name of Orhei. This town will last here until 1540. It was the most important urban settlement in Eastern Moldova, and at the same time the most important eastern outpost of the country. Unlike the Mongols, the Moldovans, in accordance with the specific European defensive strategy, solved the issue of defending the settlement by building two rows of impressive ramparts and ditches, which closed the only access pathway. Both in the Mongolian and Moldovan periods, several small villages existed around the city, providing food and raw materials.

The Șehr al-Cedid town is the only representative example of urban oriental civilization in this part of Europe, while the Orhei town was the only major Moldovan town in eastern half of Țara Moldovei.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

Authenticity: The landscape is made exclusively of original material. Geological formations, vistas, the Raut River, and even soils remain essentially as they were many millennia ago. All archaeological structures are comprised of original fabric; only a few of them have undergone anastylosis, and all of these with minimal consolidating material. Most of the archaeological structures from the Palaeolithic until Medieval period have not been excavated. Excavated structures have been well documented, consolidated and preserved. Excavated artifacts have been catalogued, treated for conservation, and deposited in appropriate storing condition. The location and setting convey a very strong and unique and sense of place. The traditional use of the landscape for agriculture is very much in evidence, as are the ritual and religious uses of dramatic landscape features. Although the villages surrounding the project date more recently than the Middle Ages, the traditional architecture and use of symbols and colour resonate with that time period and do not distract attention from the drama of the landscape. There is almost no modern construction, and that which is present today will be removed or concealed through landscaping according the management plan for the site.

Integrity: All elements of this naturally fortified archaeological landscape possess great integrity. Archaeological material has been inventoried and evaluated over 60 years of research; from this is clear that the overwhelming majority of such material remains are well preserved and in situ. Within the Landscape are more than 1000 archaeological structures, including settlements, cemeteries, churches, caves, mosque, caravanserai and dwellings, etc. Among these, more than 300 have undergone limited testing by archaeologists, and exposed remains have been consolidated and protected. Although much of the landscape has been in continual agricultural use for many centuries, the disturbance to archaeological remains has been superficial due to the absence of deep plowing. The scientific and historical importance of these remains is outstanding. They contain material with the potential to clarify the role of “barbarians” in the ancient world: analyses so far suggest that they mediated between the cultures of Europe and Asia in ways that have not been yet understood. Future archaeological excavations might further indicate that the occupation of Orheiul Vechi by Tartars, portrayed in European literature as devastating to civilization, might have ultimately enriched civilization on a global scale. Further, the landscape as sensed by the visitor retains enormous integrity. Stunning, panoramic views convey in a glance the advantages conveyed to humans by the landscape in terms of protection and inspiration. Essential resources, including water, rich soil, and abundant building material that enabled the inhabitants to withstand sustained assaults on this position are still very much in evidence. Most cultic and ritual complexes (caves, churches, and altars) are in clear view. Any economic activities and natural processes, which would threaten the landscape, are under the permanent monitoring and control of officials (the Administration of the Reservation, local governments, the Ministries of Culture and Environment).

Comparison with other similar properties

According to the attributes and characteristics associated to the universal value, the Orheiul Vechi Archaeological Landscape is included in the territory from the Adriatic Sea to the Caspian Sea. Its estimated surface is about 4,680 million square kilometers, with a length of 2600 km (west – east) and a width of 1800 km (north – south). Its natural borders are: in the west – Upper Danube region and the Adriatic Sea; in the south – the Mediterranean Sea, the North of Syria, Iraq and Iran; in the east – the Caspian Sea; in the north – the northern boundary of the forest steppe zone of the Eastern Europe plains (the superior flow of the Don river, the Pripyat river) and Northern Carpathians.

The geo-cultural zone has a geographic and civilizational unity. At the same time, this is a crossroad region of the great civilizations and religions, an area linking the West and the East, Northern Europe and the Mediterranean region and the Middle East, Eastern Europe and the Euro-Asiatic steppes, as well as the Balkans and Central Europe. The central part of this geo-cultural zone perfectly encircles the Black Sea basin. This is a region that throughout history has generated strong political-economic contacts and cultural interferences. Within the geo-cultural zone there are delimited four sub-zones (areas): South-Eastern Europe (the Balkan-Carpathian region), South of Eastern Europe (the North-Pontic and North-Caspian region), the Caucasus and Western Asia.

Geographically, the Orheiul Vechi Archaeological Landscape is situated in the central part of the geo-cultural zone, on the border between South-Eastern and Eastern Europe.

At the same time, the Orheiul Vechi Archaeological Landscape is located at the crossover of the steppe and forest-steppe zone, which throughout the centuries was the confluence area between sedentary and the nomadic peoples. In this context, the Orheiul Vechi Archaeological Landscape represents an important boundary nodal point, which throughout millennia was at the intersection of different cultures.

Based on the characteristics and attributes of the Orheiul Vechi Archaeological Landscape there have been defined 5 criteria for conducting the comparative analysis of this property: a) The intensity of cultural interferences, b) The intensity of the interaction between man and nature and the human impact on nature, c) The existence of the capacity to exploit the major routes of communication, d) The existence of major centres of power and trade, e) The location on a boundary nodal point.

For the comparative analysis, the properties are selected based on the following principles: a) they must be Archaeological Landscapes, groups of archaeological sites or archaeological sites occupying large areas, b) they must meet the requirements of the criteria (II) and/or (V) from the UNESCO Operational Guidelines, c) they must be situated in the same geo-cultural zone as the Orheiul Vechi Archaeological Landscape.

In accordance with the UNESCO Operational Guidelines, the Orheiul Vechi Archaeological Landscape is compared to properties: a) from the UNESCO World Heritage List (Dacian Fortresses of the Orăștie Mountains, Rock-Hewn Churches of Ivanovo, Göreme National Park and the Rock Sites of Cappadocia and Archaeological Site of Ani), b) from the UNESCO tentative list (The Basarabi cave complex, Hermitage Blaca, The historical surroundings of Crimean Khans’ capital in Bakhchysarai, Complex of the Sudak Fortress Monuments of the 6th - 16th c.,  Cultural Landscape of “Cave Towns” of the Crimean Gothia and The archaeological site of Tanais), and c) from the delimited geo-cultural zone without being in any official UNESCO list (Saharna-Țipova Archaeological Landscape, Rudi-Tătăruca Archaeological Landscape, Băile Figa-Sărățel Archaeological Landscape, Veliko-Târnovo Archaeological Landscape and Saray al-Mahrusa Arhaeological Site).