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Silk Roads: Zarafshan-Karakum Corridor (Tajikistan)

Date of Submission: 21/01/2021
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Tajikistan National Commission for UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Sughd region
Ref.: 6500
Transnational
Other States Parties participating
Turkmenistan
Uzbekistan
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Description

The Silk Roads extended over 6500 km and connected East, South, and Western Asia with the Mediterranean and European world and served as historical network of interlinking trade routes, intercultural dialogue, exchange of traditions, sciences, art, religions, languages and human values.

The “Silk Roads: Zarafshan-Karakum Corridor” is located along the Zarafshan river, its wider hydrological basin and the Karakum desert. It was identified in the Silk Roads ICOMOS Thematic Study as the 4th and 5th corridors out of 54. It is linked to the Tien-Shan corridor in the North, the Fergana Valley corridor in the East, the Amudarya corridor in the South and via the Southern Aral Sea to the Caspian corridor in the West, as well as from Merv to the Khorasan corridor (once called Great Khorasan Road in early Islamic period.

The corridor starts from Khisorak in Sogd province in the Republic of Tajikistan and ends in Kushmeihan in Mary province in Turkmenistan. The length of the corridor is about 866 km and it lies in the three Central Asian countries Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan. It crosses geographical zones such as the highland zone, piedmont zone, plains zone, artificial irrigation zone, oases zone, wormwood-steppe zone and desert zone.

The corridor consists of 31 component parts: Khisorak, Castle on Mount Mugh, Kum settlement, Gardani-Khisor, Tali-Khamtuda, Mukhammad Bashoro Mausoleum, Toksankoriz, Sanjarshakh, Ancient Town of Penjikent (Tajikistan); Jartepa II Temple, Suleimantepa, Kafirkala settlement, Dabusiya settlement, Qosim Shaikh Complex, Mir-Sayid Bakhrom Mausoleum, Raboti Malik Caravanserai and Sardoba, Deggaron Mosque, Chasma-I Ayub Khazira, Vardanze settlement, Vobkent Minaret, Bahouddin Naqshband Architectural Complex, Chor Bakr Necropolis, Varakhsha settlement, Paikend settlement (Uzbekistan) and Amul settlement, Mansaf Caravanserai, Konegala Caravanserai, Tahmalaj, Akja Gala Caravanserai, Gyzylja Gala Caravanserai and Kushmeihan (Turkmenistan). In addition, there are three World Heritage properties, the Samarkand-Crossroad of Cultures, the Historic Centre of Bukhara and Ancient Merv State Historical and Cultural Park, situated along the corridor. Samarkand and Bukhara have been the major cities in this region from the 6th century BC and Merv from the 3rd century BC onwards. All three of them possess significant archaeological remains from pre-Islamic period as well as outstanding architectural monuments of the Muslim time. In addition, the world heritage property Historic Centre of Shakhrisyabz, medieval Kesh, is located somewhat to the south, but it is also profoundly related to the corridor. Although there are not included as component parts of this World Heritage nomination their attributes and relevance are highlighted throughout the nomination dossier.

From the 2nd century BC to the end of the 16th century the Corridor had three important periods of prosperity. First, during the blossom of pre-Islamic Sogdian culture, from the 5th to 8th century, under Hepthalite, Turk, Chinese and Arab rule, when the role of Central Asian merchants increased significantly, especially of the Sogdians, who were the main intermediaries in international silk trade called the “Phoenicians of the Silk Road” by 20th century scholars, but also developed a unique developed culture in their motherland in and near Zarafshan valley. Second, during the 10th century, the period of the Samanids and later pre-Mongol dynasties, when cities and urban culture in Maverannahr (Transoxiana) actively developed and trade activities within Muslim ecumene and outside, are well documented by archaeological findings and written sources. Lastly, in the 14th and 15th centuries, the time of the Timurids, when science, culture, urban planning and economics significantly developed.

Along the “Silk Roads: Zarafshan-Karakum Corridor” urban centers, trade, architectural elements, dynamic development, infrastructure and intangible associations, served in further distribution and interaction of different religions and spiritual traditions. These include Zoroastrianism, Manichaeism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Maverannahr was origin or second home to various Sufi shaikhs who, like Bahauddin Naqshband, influenced deeply cultures of Middle East, the Indian Subcontinent and Northern Eurasia, the religious cult of Sufism (Islamic mysticism) developed widely. The Jartepa II Temple represents the role of extramural pan-Sogdian Zoroastrian sanctuaries along the Zarafshan-Karakum Corridor, whereas Suleimantepa monastery reflects the spread of Eastern Syriac Christianity in the Central Asia along the Silk Roads.

Starting from the 5th to 8th century, to the 3rd century BCE to the 11th century. The sites of Kafirkala, Varakhsha, Vardanze, Sanjar-shah, Khisorak demonstrate the highly developed Sogdian palatial architecture. The temple of Jartepa and fortress of Khamtuda are witnesses to the emergence of Sogdian cultural complex, and the deep cultural strata of the cities such as Paikend, Vardanze, Dabusiya, Amul, Kushmeihan show the continuity of urban lifestyle through two millennia.

The sites of ancient water management system, as Raboti Malik Caravanserai and Sardoba and Toksankoriz, are unique and outstanding example of human interaction with the environment in terms of advances in infrastructure and technology. The fortresses and settlements in the highland part of Zarafshan valley (Kum, Gardani Khisor, Mugh) and especially the significant town of Khisorak at the elevation of 2250 m above the sea level, show the efforts made my ancient people to make hostile environment available to civilized human lifestyle. The development and prosperity of the sites on the outskirts of Merv oasis was totally dependent on ancient and medieval sophisticated water supply technologies.

Architectural elements of Muslim religious monuments of both pre-Mongol – Chashma-i Ayyub, Deggaron mosque, Mir-Sayyid Bakhrom, Vobkent Minaret - and post Mongol - Muhammad Bashoro, Qosim Shaikh, Bahouddin Naqshband, Chor Bakr - periods show that superb architectural monuments were limited not to capital cities but were found in the rural area and even remote places. They demonstrated new stages in architecture development and later influenced other monuments and integrated widely in Islamic architecture. The site of Suleimantepa is a proof for tolerance towards Christians in the early Muslim Maverannahr. The sites of infrastructure, including fortifications as Castle on Mount Mugh, Tali Khamtuda as well as the remains of caravanserais, Raboti Malik Caravanserai and Sardoba, Mansaf and Konegala along the Zarafshan-Karakum corridor demonstrate the evidence of the comprehensive system that conditioned the functioning of the Silk Roads over a span of time.

Name(s) of the component part(s)

TJ-01 Khisorak settlement N 39° 26' 29,365", E 69° 41' 8,006"

TJ-02 Сastle on Mount Mugh N 39° 27' 16,203", E 68° 24' 47,446"

TJ-03 Kum Settlement N 39° 25' 0,103", E 68° 23' 35,291"

TJ-04 Gardani Khisor settlement N 39° 25' 21,411", E 68° 20' 45,257"

TJ-05 Tali Khamtuda fortress N 39° 23' 34,131", E 67° 52' 0,301"

TJ-06 Mausoleum of Khoja Mukhammad Bashoro N 39° 23' 15,385", E 67° 51' 8,033"

TJ-07 Toksankoriz irrigation system N 39° 27' 39,660", E 67° 43' 38,424"

TJ-08 Sanjarshakh settlement N 39° 29' 5,423", E 67° 43' 22,348"

TJ-09 Town of the Ancient Penjikent N 39° 29' 12,840", E 67° 37' 5,230"

Description of the component part(s)

TJ-01 Khisorak settlement
It is the most highland urban monument (above 7 ha) in Central Asia, 2250 m above sea level, with outstanding preservation of the architecture of the 7th – 8th centuries.

The existence of this developed settlement in the mountains, where no cities exist today, shows the outstanding craft of Sogdian people and their effectiveness in withstanding severe environment. The architecture of the Khisorak settlement is preserved well, up to 5 meters high, the massive adobe brick walls are visible above the cliffs enhanced with boulders, many passages survived completely. A great number of organic finds have been discovered at Khisorak: textiles and fragments of garments, wooden utensils including carved panels of ceiling and Sogdian documents, grains, leather, furs, mummified dog, etc. Being a grandiose town-planning and fortification project, Khisorak have a decorated palace on Citadel I. The settlement also bears testimony to Sogdian palatial architecture and decoration. It is also as an outstanding fortress of comb shape and an urban settlement in difficult to access mountain region with severe climate.

TJ-02 Сastle on Mount Mugh 
This apparently small and ordinary castle in picturesque landscape that controlled the passage from Zarafshan river to its tributary Kum obtains outstanding position in the history of Central Asia during the Arab conquest, including the multi-facetted relations of Sogdians along the Silk Roads. It was here that in 1932 – 1933, with quite adventurous circumstances the only surviving Sogdian archive and many material objects have been found. The archive, which is now the basic source for the history of Central Asia, belonged to Divashtich, the last ruler of Panjakent (706 – 722 CE) and his detachment, who were expelled to the mountains where they had to surrender to the Muslim commander. The archive is the main documentary source on Islamization of Transoxiana, and it is great witness to social, political, economic history of 8th century Sogdiana. The references to Arabs, Turks, Persians, Chinese, Khorezmians, Ferganians, etc. in these documents show how much interdependent was Central Asia of that epoch. Apart from documents, many everyday objects were discovered at Mount Mugh, and again, some of them are indications of cultural transfer such as Chinese silk and lacquer objects. Therefore, the Castle on Mount Mugh bears exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition of Sogdians through its documents, tangibly associated with significant events of Islamization and local withstanding to it. It is also a good example of fortification of Sogdians as well as the reflection of human activity in unfavorable mountain environment.

TJ-03 Kum Settlement 
High in the mountains, the settlement of Kum, comprising of extremely well-preserved castle as well as palace, living quarters and fortifications, where the last ruler of Panjakent, Divashtich, took refuge from persecution, reflects the national culture and life of highland Sogdiana in the late 7th - early 8th centuries. In the farce from the fortress, in the valley of Kum, the battle of the Sogdians with the Arabs took place, after which Divashtich, the best-known ruler of Sogdian principality, fell and surrendered in 722. Excavations of the larger part of the Kum settlement, combined with written data obtained in the castle on Mount Mug (six kilometers away), allow to describe more accurately the historical situation and the heroic confrontation of the population of the mountain Sogdiana. Kum represents the town planning and fortifications along the Silk Roads as well as Sogdian palatial structures of petty rulers, who were engaged in the Silk Road trade. It is also an example of outstanding human activity in unfavorable mountain environment and bear witness to Islamization of the area, through archaeological materials. The well-preserved fortifications and architecture of Kum and its historical significance is pivotal for the nomination.

TJ-04 Gardani Khisor settlement
The main value of this relatively small (1ha) and humble settlement with the wall of irregular shape, comprising of the palace of the ruler and houses of community members along the streets below it, is its being the only completely excavated rural settlement of Sogdians of the 7th – early 8th century. It is the reference site for ordinary life of Sogdians in the highlands, that shows difference as compares to palaces, castles or temples known in other parts of Sogdiana. Thanks to the excavations of Gardani Khisor (medieval Madm), the lifestyle of the ordinary people responsible for the blossom along the Silk Roads in the pre-Islamic period is now well-known. The palace of the Gardani Khisor settlement with decorated wooden ceiling panels and fireplace shows how much the elite culture of the day penetrated into distant environments. As a result of the events of 721–722 the castle on Mount Mug (12 km away), the settlement of Gardani Khisor and partially Kum were destroyed. Archaeological materials reflect the results of these events. Gardani Khisor represents an example of the town planning, fortifications, monumental art along the Silk Roads as well as reflects Sogdian palatial structures of petty rulers, who were engaged in the Silk Road trade. It is also an example of outstanding human activity in unfavorable mountain environment and is associated with the locations, which bear witness to Islamization of the area, through archaeological materials. The completeness of the data of the life of Gardani Khisor in late 7th – early 8th centuries is the key value of the archaeological site for including into the nomination.


TJ-05 Tali Khamtuda fortress
The well-preserved cross-shaped fortress of the first centuries CE, the period immediately predating the blossom of Sogdian civilization on the Silk Road. The uniqueness and value of Tali Khamtuda lies in the fact that it was possible to explore completely the monument, which reflects the interaction of the highly developed culture of the Sogd plain and the more archaic culture of its mountainous regions, and clearly demonstrates the influence of the former on the latter. It reflects the coexistence in one place of a continuous culture with different religions. It is a complex of ancient fortresses and settlements, with an adjacent Muslim cemetery.

Tali Khamtuda was chosen for the nomination as an outstanding example of late antique – early medieval stronghold.

TJ-06 Mausoleum of Khoja Mukhammad Bashoro
The mausoleum with richly decorated peshtak (frontal arched portal) dated to the year 743 of the Hijra (1342-1343 CE) is located in the remote piedmont environment but yet bears the characteristics of metropolitan Samarkand architecture.   It reflects the transformation of a mosque into a mausoleum. It is a rare example of the evolution of Muslim architecture nurtured by local traditions of architecture and local beliefs, which can be documented by dry trunk of a tree in the center of its dome. The uniqueness was brought to the mausoleum by its beautiful peshtak portal, certainly one of the best in Central Asia. It is made of carved terracotta with inserts of colored glazed tiles and bricks and contains the date of erection in elaborate Kufi script. Unlike many other examples of post-Mongol Islamic architecture of Transoxiana, the Mausoleum of Khoja Mukhammad Bashoro was barely affected by extensive modern restorations and remains a rare case of almost untouched authentic religious building. The architectural monument bears a unique testimony to internationalized and highly developed Sufi communities of mostly post-Mongol Islamic Period and is an example of elaborate religious building of Islamic period associated with the highly developed Islamic culture of Transoxiana, usually outside the main cities.

TJ-07 Toksankoriz irrigation system
Toksankoriz is the best-preserved water-supply gallery of Zarafshan river basin. Its wealth was and still is principally dependent on artificial irrigation of the crops. The koriz of this area is different from kareez or qanat systems in Iran or in Turfan oasis: it is not an underground channel going from piedmonts, but a gallery-like canal dug through the rock, often not far from its cliff, thus leading water for irrigation through natural obstruction. The facility is an outstanding testimony of human interaction with the environment. This irrigation facility is evidence of the continued use of natural resources during the intensive existence of the Silk Road through the Middle Ages. It is an example of the use of an outstanding human genius in the form of technical and scientific achievements in creating this system over different eras by irrigators from 6th to 12th century, still in use until 1930s.

TJ-08 Sanjarshakh settlement
The Sanjarshakh settlement is a Sogdian town and one of the major urban centers in the Upper Zarafshan valley and the largest settlement in the vicinity of Penjikent. It controlled the trade route to the Kashkadarya valley via Magiandarya. Unlike Penjikent, Sanjarshakh continued to exist in the early Samanid period providing a rare example for the region of a transition of a Sogdian urban space from 8th to 9th century. Sanjarshakh exhibits some of the best preserved and impressive examples of Sogdian domestic architecture in Central Asia, which in some places stands up to the height of 6 meters. The excavations so far have exposed a remarkable round tower, a craftsmen-quarter and households belonging to common citizens. In recent seasons, a monumental palatial building is being excavated in the western part of the site. Sanjarshakh shows evidence of trade and extensive cultural contacts with Iran and China. Notable finds include wall-paintings, carved wood, fragments of textiles including a complete child shirt, a Chinese bronze mirror and fragments of the earliest Arabic documents written on (imported Chinese) paper. Sanjarshakh reflects town planning, fortifications, monumental art, exchange of trade goods and ideas along the Silk Roads. The palace of the Sanjarshakh settlement is a testimony to Sogdian palatial structures of petty rulers, who were engaged in the Silk Road trade, whereas its unique dungeon tower is an example of strongholds of Sogdiana and Margiana that developed through the course of time and demonstrate various models of castle construction.

TJ-09 Town of the Ancient Penjikent
The Town of the Ancient Penjikent is the best-preserved and most studied town of Sogdian culture, the primary reference site for Middle Asian city in 5th – 8th centuries. It was an important political, economic, cultural, religious and military center. The greatest volume of archaeological finds and architecture remains on the broad territory (more than a half of 13 ha site has been excavated). They are supplemented with most numerous and best-preserved examples of Sogdian monumental art, the murals, loess sculpture and wooden reliefs. The major part of the works of art was discovered not in the palace or temples, but in the houses of city folk, including the rich merchants active on the Silk Roads. The wide range of excavations of Penjikent during the last almost 75 years revealed complete residential blocks, streets, temples, citadel, palace, suburban villas and necropolis. Many residential houses were of two or three floors, with complicated architecture and decorations. The finds from Panjakent very often show close and distant trade and cultural relations, contacts with Persia, India, Turkic steppe, China, Byzantium, and later Arabs. In the religious sphere of Penjikent, for example, we witness a popular religion with Zoroastrian core and major influences from Mesopotamian, Greek and Indian creeds, as well as witnesses of Buddhist and Christian minority communities as well as Muslim presence since the 8th century. Penjikent represents town planning, fortifications, monumental art, exchange of trade goods and ideas along the Silk Roads. It murals and reliefs reflect the world-view of Sogdian city-folk and rulers, their religion, epics, festivities, ideas of beauty, contacts with other peoples involved in Silk Road trade. The archaeological site is also bearing witness to Islamization of the area, through archaeological materials and/or through written records.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

Criterion (ii): The “Silk Roads: Zarafshan-Karakum Corridor” is an exceptional integral system of interchange of goods, human values and influences among the people of East and West of the Silk Roads between the 2nd BC and 16th centuries. The cultural heritage of the people of Central Asia reflect high achievements of urban planning, architecture, monumental arts, science, technology and decorative arts as a result of active cooperation and dialogue along the Silk Roads.

Criterion (iii): The “Silk Roads: Zarafshan-Karakum Corridor” is an exceptional testimony of cultural traditions, with comprehensive exchange between the 2nd BC and 16th centuries. Unique urban structure, architecture, monumental art and spiritual values appeared in the process of mutual exchange reflecting the achievements in three historic periods: Sogdian, Samanid-Karakhanid, and Temurid-Shaybanid, when the route was flourishing.

Criterion (iv): The “Silk Roads: Zarafshan-Karakum Corridor” is a unique example of urban planning, architectural art and technological process counteracting the harsh living conditions in the dry-steppe, rocky highland and arid desert zones. The ancient urban planning structures influenced the development of urban planning ideas and the formation of medieval urban structures in Central Asia.

Criterion (v): The “Silk Roads: Zarafshan-Karakum Corridor” reflects the unique example of human interaction with the natural environment of the highland, piedmont, dry-steppe, oases and fertile valleys, and arid-desert zones.

Criterion (vi): The “Silk Roads: Zarafshan-Karakum Corridor” has played a relevant role in the spread of various faiths and religious beliefs. Coexistence of different religious communities, such as Zoroastrian, Manichaean, Buddhist, Jewish, Christian, and Islamic, as well as their cult objects, can be found all along the Corridor. This is an example of the interaction, of cultural dialogue and tolerance of society, which is still inherent in modern Central Asia. The remnants of ancient beliefs and practices, clearly indicating the continuity of the living cultural traditions of the region, can be encountered in the customs and traditions of modern people - music culture, folk festivals, religious and ritual practices.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The authenticity of the "Silk Roads: Zarafshan-Karakum Corridor" fully reflects its individual attributes in relationship to the Outstanding Universal Value and the contribution of these sites into the cultural traditions, beliefs, ideas, infrastructure and socio-economic success of the Silk Roads. All nominated component parts are well-documented and connected with the period of prosperity of the Silk Roads from the 2nd century B.C. to the late 16th century A.D. mainly during its three flourishing periods, namely, the 5th-6th centuries during the Turkic Khaganate; the 10th century during the Samanids period and the 14th-15th centuries during the Timurid period. Architectural complexes have exceptional attributes such as: initial space-planning solution and individual ornamental and artistic elements. Archaeological sites preserve their original layout as well as integral parts. The monuments preserve partially the original brick materials and construction techniques. Earthen constructions materials, mud bricks and pakhsa, maintained the traditional production technique and massively used today. The function and use still remains in the same manner, in particular, for transportation, trade, passage between regions, religious use and pilgrimage. The route has been transformed into the modern traffic road and retained the use for transportation. The geographic outlet of the corridor is authentic and spread alone the diversity of environmental zones such piedmont, plain, artificial irrigation, oases and wormwood-steppe zones following the stream of the Zarafshan River. With the time development the corridor has been dynamically changed in terms of city growth, land-use and infrastructure at the same time it retained its original values.

The integrity of the "Silk Roads: Zarafshan-Karakum Corridor" is related to the presence of all the attributes and dynamic functions, including four different geographical zones, namely, piedmont, plain, artificial irrigation, oases and wormwood-steppe zones and well retained at mausoleums, sardobas, settlements, caravanserais, minarets, mosques, religious complexes and archaeological sites. Sites retained component structures partially, the location and architectural forms remained unchanged and preserved and main attributes retained. Architectural planning, decoration elements, remaining of walls, functional features reflect the values representing the integrity of the component parts. The remnants of ruins are sufficient to fully understand the functional features and processes reflecting the values of the component parts. Boundaries and buffer zones of the component parts are clear and defined as well as under the state protection. Although development pressure affects some component parts in terms of urbanization, tourism development and new technologies, it is controlled by relevant governmental organizations in charge of preservation and utilization of cultural heritage in Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. Moreover, state laws on the protection of cultural heritage are well organized and integrated in all development processes in local, regional and national levels, ensuring the intactness of the component parts, in particular, and the overall corridor, in general.

Justification of the selection of the component part(s) in relation to the future nomination as a whole

There are over 700 archaeological sites and architectural monuments were identified in the Upper Zarafshan area of Tajikistan (Sughd Province) basing on bibliographic sources and the reports of archaeological expeditions. 77 of them were previously studied and met the chronological framework of the Silk Roads: Zarafshan-Karakum Corridor (1st century BC – 14th century) and, therefore, were selected for the detailed internal comparative analysis in Tajikistan.

Due to the geographical features, the compared sites are located either in piedmont (53) or narrow fertile valley zones (24) along the river of Zarafshan or its tributaries (Fondarya and Magyandarya). As regards the functional types of sites selected for the internal comparative analysis in Tajikistan, there are 5 religious sites (1 mausoleum, 3 minarets and 1 ceremonial site); 31 infrastructure sites (24 defense facilities and fortifications; 5 water supply and irrigation systems); 32 trading settlements and 9 central towns.

The comparative analysis revealed that all selected sites represent at least one relevant value of the Zarafshan-Karakum corridor of the Silk Roads, whereas 4 sites are reflecting multiple values. Further analysis included the detailed assessment of the state of conservation of the compared sites as well as the assessment of their potential to meet the requirements in authenticity and integrity. These assessments were based on the passports of sites as well as on field monitoring and expert views.

The further comparison of the sites by the degree of study showed that the most researched sites are the largest central towns (Penjikent and Sandzharshakh), architectural monuments (Mukhammad Bashoro Mausoleum), the largest trading settlements (Khisorak, Kumkala, Gardani-Khisor) and fortifications (Tali Khamtuda and Mug Abargar), whereas only some of the sites associated with water management system are well-studied and documented (Toksankorez).

The final selection of the sites for the nomination in Tajikistan fully reflects the cultural and chronological framework of the Zarafshan-Karakum corridor of the Silk Roads from Antiquity to the Middle Ages.

Comparison with other similar properties

As of 2020, 11 cultural routes have been inscribed to the World Heritage List, including the Silk Roads: Initial Section of the Silk Roads, the Routes Network of Tian-shan Corridor (2014), which is the first inscribed corridor of the Silk Roads Transnational Serial World Heritage nomination as well as the Routes of Santiago de Compostela: Camino Francés and Routes of Northern Spain (1993); Routes of Santiago de Compostela in France (1998); Land of Frankincense (2000); Quebrada de Humahuaca (2003); Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range (2004); Incense Route-Desert Cities in the Negev (2005); Mount Wutai (2009); Camino Real de Tierra Adentro (2010); Birthplace of Jesus: Church of the Nativity and the Pilgrimage Route, Bethlehem (2012) and Qhapaq Ñan, Andean Road System (2014).

The comparative analysis with the existing World Heritage cultural routes was based on the following values: influences (criterion ii); testimony (criterion iii); typology (criterion iv); land-use (criterion v) and associations (criterion vi).

The value of interchange is characteristic for the majority of the World Heritage cultural routes. At the same time, the content of interchange (including human values, actors as well as geocultural region and chronological framework) differs significantly from site to site. For instance, the Routes of Santiago de Compostela (in Spain and France) reflect the exchange of cultural and religious values between European pilgrims and the communities of the Iberian Peninsula in the Middle Ages. The Quebrada de Humahuaca has shaped the interaction between the peoples of highlands and lowlands of the Andes from Prehistory until the present day. The Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range bear the evidence of the interchange of several religious cultures of Japan from the 9th century to the present day, whereas the Mount Wutai represents the interchange of ideas on developments of Buddhist architecture from the 1st AD until early 20th century. The value of interchange of cultural and religious ideas also resides in the Camino Real de Tierra Adentro that functioned as a communication channel and colonial silver mining industry route in Mesoamerica from mid 16th to 19th centuries.

The diversity and large geographical extent of interchange are characteristic both to the Qhapaq Ñan and the Silk Roads: Zarafshan-Karakum Corridor. However, the content of exchange as well as the physical features of Qhapaq Ñan, connecting Andean communities from 15th century until the present day, differs significantly: its 137 component areas and 308 associated sites represent communication, trade and defense network of roads that conditioned movement of labor and exchange of social, political and cultural values of the Inca Empire. Therefore, the Silk Roads: Zarafshan-Karakum Corridor belonging to different geocultural and chronological framework represents a unique complex interchange of both human values and influences, encompassing trade, social and economic values, architecture and urban planning, culture and arts, science and technology, between the peoples of East and the West from the 2nd BC to 16th century AD.

As regards the World Heritage cultural routes, inscribed to the World Heritage List under the criterion (iii), both the Land of Frankincense and the Incense Route – Desert Cities in the Negev are the exceptional testimonies of frankincense trade in the Antiquity. The Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range and the Mount Wutai bear exceptional testimony to religious traditions (Japanese religious culture and pilgrimage to mountains, respectively); the Qhapaq Ñan is a unique testimony of the Inca civilization. In this light, the outstanding heritage of the Silk Roads: Zarafshan-Karakum Corridor serves as an exceptional testimony to several cultural traditions that go beyond trade and religion, encompassing complex cultural phenomena of Sogdian, Samanid-Karakhanid, and Timurid-Shaybanid civilizations.

The cultural routes inscribed to the World Heritage List are outstanding and the most preserved examples of:

  • pilgrimage routes (Christian pilgrimage routes in both cases of the Routes of Santiago de Compostela in Spain and France)
  • settlements (Medieval fortified settlements of Southern Arabia in the case of the Land of Frankincense; Pre-Hispanic settlements and Pre-Incan Settlements in the case of the Quebrada de Humahuaca)
  • networks of routes / infrastructure (the South Andean system of communication and social, economic and cultural coordination routes in the case of Quebrada de Humahuaca; the technological ensemble of the Spanish colonial exploitation of silver in the case of the Camino Real de Tierra Adentro; the complex technological ensemble and the state infrastructure of the Inca Empire in the case of Qhapaq Ñan)
  • architecture (Japanese wooden religious architecture in the case of the Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range; Chinese early timber architecture in the case of the Mount Wutai; the architecture of Spanish colonial exploitation of silver in the case of the Camino Real de Tierra Adentro; the Church of the Nativity as an outstanding Christian church in the case of the Birthplace of Jesus: Church of the Nativity and the Pilgrimage Route, Bethlehem)

In comparison, the Silk Roads: Zarafshan-Karakum Corridor bears the unique example of urban planning, architecture and technological ensembles evolved based on the use of water resources in medieval Central Asia.

Although, the human-nature interaction resides in the essence of the cultural routes, currently, only 3 of them are inscribed to the World Heritage List under the criterion (v): the pre-Hispanic and pre-Incan pucaras and the field system of the Quebrada de Humahuaca are the outstanding examples of the human settlement and land-use in high mountains developed in South America; the remains of the Incense Route-Desert Cities in the Negev are the evidence of the human response to harsh desert conditions and its adaptation for trade and agriculture through water collection and irrigation systems. The latter is also characteristic to the Silk Roads, both Tian-Shan and Zarafshan-Karakum corridors, presenting the example of human interaction not only with deserts, but also with piedmont, dry-steppe, oases and fertile valleys, and arid-desert zones. However, in the case of the Zarafshan-Karakum corridor, the interaction was centered around the water resources of the river of Zarafshan. Therefore, the corridor represents the role of elaborate hydraulic management and irrigation systems in the development of the Silk Roads.

The majority of the World Heritage cultural routes has a direct association with such living religious traditions as Christian pilgrimage (the Routes of Santiago de Compostela in Spain and France; Birthplace of Jesus: Church of the Nativity and the Pilgrimage Route, Bethlehem; Birthplace of Jesus: the Church of the Nativity and the Pilgrimage Route, Bethlehem) or Buddhism pilgrimage (the Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range and the Mount Wutai).

The Zarafshan-Karakum corridor has a direct association with several faiths and religious beliefs, Zoroastrism, Manicheanism, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam, peacefully coexisted along the Silk roads. Moreover, the Zarafshan-Karakum corridor reflects the contribution of the Silk Roads to the development of Islam and, particularly, the spread of Sufism. Similar to the Qhapaq Ñan, the intangible dimension of the heritage of the Silk Roads, goes beyond the religious associations and encompasses the richness of the living traditions and cultural dialogue in modern Central Asia reflected in music culture, festivals, ritual practices and others.