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The Great Wall of Gorgan

Date de soumission : 02/02/2017
Critères: (i)(ii)(iii)(iv)(v)
Catégorie : Culturel
Soumis par :
Iranian cultural heritage, handicrafts and tourism organization
État, province ou région :
Golestan Province
Coordonnées E 238850/23 N4109473/43
Ref.: 6199
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Description

The Great Wall of Gorgan, Golestan Province, in northern Iran was built from 420s AD to 530s AD; it is then occupied until the 7th century. This was the time when the Persian Empire, under the Sassanian dynasty, was involved in a series of wars at its northern frontier, first against the Hephthalites or White Huns and later against the Turks. The Great Wall of Gorgan stretches for almost 200 km and is lined by 38 forts. It is the longest fort-lined ancient barrier between Central Europe and China, it is longer than Hadrian’s Wall and the Antonine Wall put together. It is also more than three times the length of the longest late Roman defensive wall built from scratch, the Anastasian Wall west of Constantinople. The combined area of the forts on the Gorgan Wall exceeds that of those on Hadrian’s Wall about threefold. These figures do not take into account that a substantial section in the west appears to be buried under marine sediments of the Caspian Sea. It may even join up with the Tammisheh Wall, a shorter defensive barrier of strikingly similar design. Both walls employed large fired bricks of similar shape and size, both are lined by an earth bank and ditch (supplied with water by canals) and by batteries of virtually identical brick kilns, both are protected by similar forts and both run from the Alborz Mountains to the Caspian Sea. Whether or not they were parts of a single barrier, the Gorgan and Tammisheh Walls and their associated forts certainly formed part of the same defensive system.

The system is remarkable not only in terms of its physical scale, but even more so in terms of its technical sophistication. In order to enable construction works, canals had to be dug along the course of the defensive barrier, to provide the water needed for brick production. These canals received their water from supplier canals, which bridged the Gorgan River via qanats. One of these, the Sadd-e Garkaz, survives to c. 700 m length and 20 m height, but was originally almost one kilometre long. The route of the Gorgan Wall and the associated canal had to follow a natural gradient, evidence for remarkable skills in hydraulic engineering by its creators. The forts were filled with barracks of standardized design, suggesting that the Sassanian army was well organized. Further evidence for a high level of organization of the Sassanian armed forces is provided by hinterland campaign bases, each of ca. 40 ha size. In one of them, rectangular enclosures in neat double rows have been found, the remnants of a tent city, probably of a mobile field army. The Gorgan Wall and its associated ancient military monuments provide a unique testimony to the engineering skills and military organization of the Sassanian Empire. They help to explain its geographic extent, from Mesopotamia to the west of the Indian Subcontinent, and how effective border defence contributed to the Empire’s prosperity in the interior and to its longevity. These monuments are, in terms of their scale, historical importance and sophistication, of global significance.

Justification de la Valeur Universelle Exceptionelle

The Gorgan Plain with its defensive monuments of the Sassanid era(5th-7th centuries) constitute the greatest cluster of military monuments known from anywhere within the Sassanid Empire, contemporary to a large-scale urban foundation, provides a microcosm of one of the ancient world’s largest states. Thus, due to its interaction with civilizations and cultures and its strategic location, carries important contents from the past.

The Great Wall of Gorgan is the longest fort-lined ancient barrier between Central Europe and China, it is longer than Hadrian’s Wall and the Antonine Wall put together. It is also more than three times the length of the longest late Roman defensive wall. The Great Wall of Gorgan posed exceptional engineering challenges. There was no stone or timber in the steppe; it is just made of bricks. The system of it is remarkable in terms of its physical scale and its technical sophistication. The Great Wall of Gorgon is an incredible and sophisticated defensive construction located in north-eastern Iran; it has around 30 military forts, an aqueduct, and water channels that go along the route. It is commonly known as “the Red Snake” because of the construction materials used, red colored bricks.

The route of the Gorgan Wall and the associated canal had to follow a natural gradient, evidence for remarkable skills in hydraulic engineering by its creators. The Gorgan Wall and its associated ancient military monuments provide a unique testimony to the engineering skills and military organization of the Sassanian Empire. They help to explain its geographic extent, from Mesopotamia to the west of the Indian Subcontinent, and how effective border defence contributed to the Empire’s prosperity in the interior and to its longevity.

This decisive period of history saw the demise of the Western Roman Empire and the eventual emergence of the Caliphate, expanding at the expense of the Sassanid and Eastern Roman Empires. The Sassanid military barriers and fortifications in the Gorgan Plain provide evidence how effective defence, or the lack of it, could contribute to security and prosperity of empires.

The Tammisheh Wall, and probably the Great Wall of Gorgan, extended into territory now submerged in the Caspian Sea, due to a rise of its water-level, they shed unique light on human interaction with the environment, the world’s largest inland Sea and the steppes of Eurasia.

Criterion (i): The Great Wall of Gorgan posed exceptional engineering challenges. There was no stone or timber in the steppe, and in order to build a massive defensive barrier, resistant to winter rain, an estimated 200 million fired bricks, each weighing c. 20 kg, had to be produced. This required a supplier canal system of extraordinary scale and sophistication (see introduction), not to mention one brick kiln every 37-86 m, maybe 3,000-7,000 in total. Undoubtedly, the Great Wall of Gorgan is not just one of the largest monuments of its kind anywhere in the world, but also one that could only be built by architects and surveyors which were exceptionally skilled and creative.

Criterion (ii):  The Great Wall of Gorgan, and the associated extensive military infrastructure in its hinterland, is of a larger scale than any known purpose-built military monument of earlier times in the Near East. At the same time, the Sassanid Empire also had the resources to create in the hinterland of the Wall a large city, Dasht Qal’eh, of 3 km2 interior size and with monumental architecture, notably brick pillar avenues. The ancient defensive barriers in the Gorgan Plain testify to a period which saw an important stage in the history of region regarding knowledge and technology transfer which associated to the safety of the region along trade routes, as well as remarkable developments, in terms of regional-planning, landscape design and technology. 

Criterion (iii): The Great Wall of Gorgan  and its associated fortifications of the Late Sassanid era (5th-7th centuries) constitute the greatest cluster of military monuments known from anywhere within the Sassanid Empire. This is all the more remarkable as this Empire stretched from modern south-east Turkey to Pakistan and from modern Dagestan (Russia) into the Arabian Peninsula. In the early 7th century the Empire even controlled Yemen and, briefly, the eastern Levant. The Gorgan Plain with its defensive monuments of the Sassanid era, contemporary to a large-scale urban foundation, provides a microcosm of one of the ancient world’s largest states. Thus, due to its interaction with upper mentioned civilizations and cultures and its strategic location, carries important contents from the past.

Criterion (iv): The Great Wall of Gorgan and contemporary defensive monuments in the Gorgan Plain are of great interest also in shedding light on the particular period of history when they were built and occupied (5th-7th centuries AD). This decisive period of history saw the demise of the Western Roman Empire and the eventual emergence of the Caliphate, expanding at the expense of the Sassanid and Eastern Roman Empires. The Sassanid military barriers and fortifications in the Gorgan Plain provide evidence how effective defence, or the lack of it, could contribute to security and prosperity of empires, to their fall or survival. This wall together with its monumental ensembles and other architecturally associated spaces has presented a significant combination with defensive importance.

Criterion (v): The Tammisheh Wall, and probably the Great Wall of Gorgan, extended into territory now submerged in the Caspian Sea, due to a rise of its water-level. Together with canals and associated settlement in the steppe north of the Gorgan Wall of an earlier period (c. 8th-5th centuries BC), they shed unique light on human interaction with the environment, the world’s largest inland Sea and the steppes of Eurasia.

Déclarations d’authenticité et/ou d’intégrité

The Great Wall of Gorgan is a monument of outstanding universal value. The Great Wall is an almost 200 km long complex and sophisticated defensive system. The brick wall is lined by 38 forts, a canal, fed by a complex system of supplier canals, as well as a large number of brick kilns, in part preserved to the present day, not to mention fortresses and a large city in its hinterland. While preservation varies from place to place and tends to be better in the east than in the west, the Wall is still recognisable as a distinct landscape feature for most of its course.

The Great Wall of Gorgan and its associated earthwork, forts, brick kilns and canals still survive in part on an impressive scale. Whilst much of the brick wall itself has been robbed, some sections survive to up to 1.50 m height, whilst in others only the bottom courses remain. Much better preserved are those elements of the defensive system built of soil or mud-brick. Excavations in Fort 4 have demonstrated that the original mud-brick walls of these, probably two-storey-high, buildings survive to a height of more than three metres. The canals, of course, as well as pits within the forts are still largely preserved, though canal banks have also has some damages. At the present point in time some of the monuments in questions still retain much of their original building materials, anyhow it is our aim to ensure much better protection of the authentic elements of this unique heritage. The Great Wall of Gorgan is particularly well preserved in the hilly landscape in the east. Visitors still can appreciate here its position and how the Wall takes advantage of the natural topography; it normally occupies high ground, to facilitate surveillance and defence.

Comparaison avec d’autres biens similaires

The Great Wall of Gorgan is one of the most elaborate defensive barriers ever erected and arguably the most sophisticated of its time (i.e. the 5th or 6th century). It is over a thousand years earlier than the stone and brick-built Great Wall of China (i,ii,iii,iv,vi); its contemporary and earlier Chinese counterparts were essentially earthworks, even if, of course, of impressive sophistication too, in terms, for example, of boosting an advanced signalling system. The Gorgan Wall is also longer than any of the Roman linear walls, e.g. Hadrian’s Wall and the Antonine Wall. While it is shorter than the "Limes" in Germany, two thirds of which are protected by a rampart rather than a wall, the Gorgan Wall forms a more formidable obstacle. There are, of course, a large number of ancient linear barriers across the world, but very few of them are lined by forts and few reach or exceed a length of 100 km. In terms of scale and sophistication, the Great Wall of Gorgan is unmatched anywhere in western Asia, Eastern Europe, Africa or America. It rivals or surpasses its grandest Roman counterparts in dimensions and complexity. While of lesser physical length than some of the ancient Chinese barriers, in terms of the scale of its forts and hinterland fortifications, it also rivals similar monuments in ancient China. Being at the mid-point between the Roman and Chinese barriers, the evolution of large-scale linear defensive systems cannot be understood without taking the Great Wall of Gorgan into account. Like the frontiers of the Roman Empire and the Great Wall of China it deserves World Heritage status.