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Silk Roads: Fergana-Syrdarya Corridor

Date of Submission: 25/08/2021
Criteria: (ii)(iii)(v)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Permanent Delegation of Kazakhstan to UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Kyzylorda Region (Kazaly, Syrdarya, Zhalagash and Zhanakorgan Districts), Turkestan Region (Otrar District and Turkestan – city of the regional subordination)
Ref.: 6568

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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party


The exact historical itineraries of the Silk Roads on the territory of modern Kazakhstan and Central Asian countries were never static. Certain cities, towns, caravanserais and trade stations were gaining and losing importance in the different periods of time due to different internal and external reasons. However, today we can identify several main sections of the most intensive trade activities on the Silk Roads that were taking place between several major centres of urban cultural tradition. One of these sections is the so-called “Fergana-Syrdarya Corridor” the components of which are situated on the territory of Kyzylorda and Turkestan Regions of the Republic of Kazakhstan.

The Fergana-Syrdarya Corridor of the Silk Roads is characterized by some well-preserved cultural landscapes of oases and cities historically situated on the major rivers of the region (for example the rivers of Arys, Shu and Syrdarya) and now located in the middle of the desert, semi-desert and steppe natural landscapes. In Kazakhstan, the caravan routes between these historical areas were following Syrdarya River from the east to the west towards the “Great Steppe” of Central Kazakhstan – the area of Desht-I-Kypchak.

This corridor of the Silk Roads includes nine further component cultural sites:

  1. Ancient settlement of Asanas; 44°28' N, 65°39' E
  2. Ancient settlement of Kyshkala; 44°77' N, 65°18' E
  3. Ancient settlement of Otrar; 44°28' N, 65°39' E
  4. Ancient settlement of Sygnak; 44°16' N, 66°95' E
  5. Ancient settlement of Yassy-Turkestan; 43°29' N, 68°27' E
  6. Ancient settlement of Zhankala (Zhent); 44°55' N, 64°09' E
  7. Ancient settlement of Zhankent; 45°61' N, 61°92' E
  8. Archaeological complex of Sauran;43°51' N, 67°77' E
  9. Sites of the Zhetyasar Oasis; 45°45' N, 63°56' E

Ancient settlement of Asanas (VI-XV centuries)

The component is located on the left side of Syrdarya River in the Syrdarya District 48 km south-east from the city of Kyzylorda – the capital of the Kyzylorda Region. It stands north-west from the ancient settlement of Sauran, Asanas played an important role in the trade with the regions of Aral Asea and Khoresm.

The city was mentioned in the written sources of the period of Mongolian invasion (1220). At that time it was destroyed. After that, it was reconstructed and continues to exist until the XV century. The citadel of the city has the size of 40x50 m and 14 m in height. The dating the ancient settlement was made on the basis of the analysis of the ceramic vessels found during the archaeological excavations.

The ancient settlement of Asanas has the official status of the site of the national value. The State Public Institution for the “Protection of Historical and Cultural Sites of the Kyzylorda Region” of the Department of Culture, Archives and Documentation of the Kyzylorda Region is responsible for the administrative management of the component.

Ancient settlement of Kyshkala (V-XVII centuries)

The component is also known under the name of Barzhynkent is located 25 km south-west from the city of Kyzylorda – the capital of the Kyzylorda Region, in the proximity of the village Kogalykol (previously known as the village of Oktyabr) of the Syrdarya District. The historical name of the city is unknown. It was initially studied in the middle of 1960s by the Khorezm Archaeological and Ethnographic Expedition. However, the archaeological studies start only in the 1990s.

The city knew the period of prosperity during the Middle Ages, while the decline of the settlement starts at the end of XVI – beginning of XVII centuries as the result of the changing of the river course and the wars of Kazakh khans with the rulers of the region of Transoxania.

The ancient settlement of Kyshkala has the official status of the site of the national value. The State Public Institution for the “Protection of Historical and Cultural Sites of the Kyzylorda Region” of the Department of Culture, Archives and Documentation of the Kyzylorda Region is responsible for the administrative management of the component.

Ancient settlement of Otrar (I-XIX centuries)

The component (also called Otrartobe) is situated 10 km west from train-station of Timur. It is a pentagonal mound oriented along the cardinal angles with a little deviation. The southern side of the mound has 380 m, south-western – 145 m, western – 400 m, north-eastern – 380 m, and eastern – 350 m. The maximum height of the mound is equal to 18 m in the south-western part of the site; the average height of the mound is equal to 10-15 m. The ancient settlement was surrounded with a wall fortified with the towers and relatively well-remained on the north-eastern and eastern sides and a moat.

During the Middle Ages Otrar (also known in the historical sources as the city of Farab or Tarban) was the capital of the oasis around it, which counts around 200 remained historical and cultural heritage sites. It was mentioned in many works of medieval Arabian, Persian and Turkic authors (at-Tabari, Makdisi, Ibn Haukal and Hafiz Tanysh). They were using the name of Tarban, which probably was the earlier name of the city. According to Makdisi – geographer of X century: “about 70 000 male souls” lived in Farab, which had the citadel, Friday mosque, markets and shops.

The site appeared in the written sources for the first time at the beginning of the IX century. By this time Otrar was already a city. In 1218 Otrar appeared again in historical sources in connection with Mongolian invasion of Southern Kazakhstan. After the destruction of Otrar by Mongols, it managed to revive and rebuilt itself. For several centuries the city played an important role as the largest administrative-political, trading and crafting centre within its oasis and also within the entire region of Southern Kazakhstan. During the whole period of its history, the architecture of Otrar and other cities of Southern Kazakhstan was influenced by both local and foreign architects, in particular, those from Central Asia and Iran. For example, the south-western gate and towers, as well as the palace and the mosque of times of the rule of the Timurid dynasty (XIV-XV centuries), represent the best architectural traditions of Central Asia and Iran at the same period.

Situated on the junction of several geographical landscapes and caravan roads, Otrar was the centre of the big agricultural region near the Karatau Mountains on the border of the nomadic region. The commercial routes connected Otrar with the ancient urban centres of Taraz, Balasagun and Eastern Turkestan Region on the east; cities of Shash, Sogd,Merv, Nishapur, Kabul, Herat on the road to India on the south; Aral Sea region and Ural Mountains on the north-west; the state of Khorezm across the Kyzylkum Desert on the south-west; and Volga region, North Caucasus, the coast of the Black Sea and Byzantium on the north and the west.

No other cultural sites on the territory of Kazakhstan have such well-remained irrigation system that was dated by the I-XVIII centuries and includes the main channels, dams and sluices, remains of the irrigated fields, gardens and plantations of watermelon, melon and gourd.

After the Mongolian invasion, which destroyed the cities of Otrar, Sayram, Syganak, Zhent, Yangikent and others, they restored. Their development was taking place in the context of movement of the international trading centres from the West to the East through Otrar and Khoresm. At this time numerous craft workshops, baths and other public constructions were opened in the city. Otrar became one of the largest economic and trading centres of the region. The cathedral mosque was built in Otrar during the rule of Timur; the ruins of this building were found by the archaeologists. The excavation works provided very important materials of the latest period of the city (XVI-XVII centuries). At this time the city was a part of the Kazakh Khanate.

The ancient settlement of Otrar has the official status of the site of the national value and managing institution – Otrar State Archaeological Museum-Reserve established in 1979.

Ancient settlement of Sygnak (I-XVIII centuries)

The component is located 2 km north-west from the village of Sunakata on the territory of Zhanakorgan District of Kyzylorda Region. It has the shape of a wrong pentagon. The shakhristan and citadel are located in a south-eastern part of the site. The northern side of shakhristan is equal to 250 m, western to 360 m, southern to 250 m, south-eastern to 450 m, and northeast to 350 m. The total area of the ancient settlement is equal to 20 ha. The traces of the ancient individual houses, irrigated fields and channels are visible in 2 km around the site.

For the first time, the city was mentioned in the historical sources of the X century, and in the XI century it was mentioned by Mahmud Kashgar among cities of “Oguz”. During the XII century, Sygnak became the capital of Kypchak State and played this role until the beginning of the XIII century. In 1220 the city was destroyed during the Mongolian invasion and was rebuilt in the middle of XIII century. After then, the city became a large political and economic center of the Syrdarya River valley. In the XIII century Sygnak became the capital of the state of Ak-Orda. Located on the Silk Roads, the city had a period of trading and crafting prosperity until the beginning of the XIV century.

The ancient settlement of Sygnak has the official status of the site of the national value. The State Public Institution for the “Protection of Historical and Cultural Sites of the Kyzylorda Region” of the Department of Culture, Archives and Documentation of the Kyzylorda Region is responsible for the administrative management of the component.

Ancient settlement of Yassy-Turkestan (I – beginning of the XIV centuries)

The component is located in the centre of the Turkestan – the administrative centre of the Turkestan Region in 350 m to the south from World Heritage Property “Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi” inscribed in the List in 2003. The citadel of the ancient settlement and Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi are situated on the pentagonal mount with south-eastern side is equal to 130 m, north-eastern to 90 m, and north-western to 130 m, and south-western to 200 m. The archaeological studies of Turkestan have shown that its cultural layers were dated by the period from the beginning of the 1 millennium A.D. to the beginning of XIV century.

The western wall of the ancient settlement has the length of around 350 m remained in a good state. In the past, the city was crossed by three main streets connecting four gates. The caravanserai and market were situated in a southern part of the city close to the wall. The territory of the ancient settlement during the end of the Middle Ages probably corresponds to the size of the city before the Mongolian invasion. It also includes several earlier cultural sites, the largest of which is the ancient settlement of Kultobe. During the late Middle Ages, the city was under the rule of Timurid and Shaybanid dynasties. After that, the city was chosen as the capital of Kazakh khans (rulers) because of its spiritual role of the Muslim community. Historically Yassy-Turkestan was a large trading centre between the nomadic steppe, Central Asia, China and other regions.

The ancient settlement of Yassy-Turkestan has the official status of the site of the national value and managing institution – “Azret-Sultan” State Historical and Cultural Museum-Reserve established in 1989.

Ancient settlement of Zhankala (Zhent)

The component is located on the southern side of Zhanadarya River approximately in 115 km west from the city Kyzylorda – administrative centres of the region, and 6 km from the flow of Zhanadarya River.

Like most of the medieval settlement the component has the citadel, shahristan and rabad. The citadel in the form of the square of 75x75 m is represented by several elements – palace surrounded with the wall and the north-eastern corner tower) that has 1 m in width. The central building of the citadel has the size of 37x28 m. The outer wall was surrounded with a moat 4 to 20 m in width. The shakhristan of the settlement is surrounded by a wall of 5 m in width and covers the area of 23 ha. Directions of shakhristan walls repeat directions of the walls of the citadel. On its territory, there are several major sites. Two of them can be identified as the caravanserais of 19x19 and 17x17 m in size. The rabad of the settlement has the size 1800 m from the west to the east and 1500 m from the north to the south. Around the settlement there is also a significant area covered with the fields and canals with numerous branches, religious buildings, residential estates, public facilities and small houses. Many of them can be identified by the low elevations and concentrations of the ceramic fragments.

Following the results of the archaeological expedition of 1960-1970s lead by S.P. Tolstov, most of the researchers involved agreed that the ancient settlement of Zhankala could by directly or indirectly associated with the historical city of Zhent. The numismatic materials found on the territory of component demonstrate its close culture and trading interchanges with the regions of Central Asia and the Middle East, China, India and Europe.

Ancient settlement of Zhankent (I-XVIII centuries)

The component is located 20 km south-west from the city Kazaly (Kazalinsk) and 500 m to the south from the village of Zhankent (ancient name – Urkendeu). It is dated by the period from the I century B.C. to the XVIII century.

The ancient settlement has the shape of 375х225 m in size. The citadel has the size of 100х100 m and the height of 7-8 m. The remained archaeological ruins of the city include the main street connecting the gates on the eastern and western walls. In 1986 the scientific archaeological expedition discovered the burial ground of Myntobe dated by the period from I century BC to the XVIII century AC and consisting of hundreds of burials on the northern end of the ancient settlement. The people here have been buried from the first centuries BC to the XVIII century. The latest archaeological researches started in 2006 discovered the streets and houses of XII-XIII centuries on the territory of shakhristan. A pagan Oguz altar of XI-XII centuries found in one of the rooms had the “protoms” in the form of lamb heads.

The first written sources on the city of Zhankent were the texts of Arabic and Persian historians and travellers in X-XI centuries. Throughout the next six centuries, the city was present in the Arabic and Persian historical sources. After that, Zhankent (also called Yangikent) was not only the capital of Oguz State, but also the residence of their governor “Yabgu" and the largest fortified and trading centre in the middle course of the Syrdarya River. This role of the component is explained by its geographical position in the corridor connecting the steppe area of Central Kazakhstan with Central Asia and the Middle East, on the one hand, and the regions of Khorezm, Aral Sea, Caucasus, and the Mediterranean on the other side. During the XVII-XVIII centuries the city was a residence of the Kazakh khans.

The ancient settlement of Zhankent has the official status of the site of the national value. The State Public Institution for the “Protection of Historical and Cultural Sites of the Kyzylorda Region” of the Department of Culture, Archives and Documentation of the Kyzylorda Region is responsible for the administrative management of the component.

Archaeological complex of Sauran (I-XVIII centuries)

The component is located 15 km to the west from the village of Sauran and 1,5 km to the east of the border between Kyzylorda and Turkestan Regions, and situated under the administrative authority of the city of Turkestan (city of the regional subordination).

The site has an oval ground and surrounded by a wall of 3-6 m in height. Its territory has the size of 500 m from the northwest on the southeast and 800 m from the northeast to the southwest. The main gate on the north-eastern part of a wall represents a solid fortified construction, flanked with two projecting towers of two floors. The entry to the city has a form of the corridor of 20 m in length formed by the projecting pieces of a wall. The moat has around 3 m in depth and 15-20 m in width. The central street was leading from the northeastern gate o the city square with a size of around 120х40 m.

The archaeological complex of Sauran includes the territory of the ancient settlement, suburban territory and necropolis. The ancient settlement (or the fortress) of Sauran is the territory inside the wall circle. The area of the ancient necropolis (cemetery) and the mosque is located southeast of the ancient settlement. The area of agricultural exploitation surrounds the ancient settlement from all sides.

The ancient settlement of Sauran has the official status of the site of the national value and managing institution – “Azret-Sultan” State Historical and Cultural Museum-Reserve established in 1989.

Sites of the Zhetyasar Oasis (1 millennium BC – beginning of the IX AD)

The component is located on the territory of the East Aral Sea Region and the valley of the middle course of the Syrdarya River. It is a unique concentration of towns, ancient settlements and burial grounds representing the so-called Zhetyasar culture associated with the State of Kangju.

At the first stages of cultural development, the fortified settlements of the Zhetyasar Oasis have an oval or rounded form of 8-25 m in height and 0.5-18 ha. After that, the new fortresses were having several distinctions. Some of them were still having the solid multi-residential buildings typical for the early Zhetyasar culture. However, they were also having additional wall rings and oval towers with the few residential building inside these rings. The core of these towns was composed by the solid multi-storey buildings. The walls of these buildings were the subject of numerous reconstructions, which was changing the location of and their total number. The mount burial grounds around the ancient settlements included the burials of 4 types and three burial constructions. The archaeological excavations of thousand of these burial grounds discovered a great collection of unique archaeological and anthropological materials, including the remains of very important commercial activities (amberbuttons from the Baltic Region, cornelian from India, glass from Syria and Egypt, colorful and smooth silk from China, chalcedony gems from Iran, brooches and bracelets from Eastern and Central Europe and many other accessories).

The first characteristics the culture and heritage sites of the Zhetyasar Oasis were given in 1948 by S.P. Tolstov, who proposed the following separation of the history of the site on three main stages were: I – end of IV century, IV-IVI centuries and a VII-IX centuries. After that these sites were studied for several decades by the famous Khorezm Archaeological Expedition.

The unique and archaic culture of Zhetyasar is very different from the neighboring regions of Kazakhstan and Central Asia. It is characterized by the particularities of the ancient settlements, their organization and tangible culture. None of the sites of this oasis was unfortified. Such particularities as the topography of the settlements, their architecture, fortifications and construction techniques manifest the period of stability and conservatism chronologically covering the large part of its history. The heritage sites of the Zhetyasar Oasis are also characterized by the fact that all of them were located in the immediate proximity to the water canals or other natural water sources, and were surrounded by the necropolis including hundreds and thousands of burial grounds.

Historical sites of the Zhetyasar Oasis are the cultural sites of the regional value. The State Public Institution for the “Protection of Historical and Cultural Sites of the Kyzylorda Region” of the Department of Culture, Archives and Documentation of the Kyzylorda Region is responsible for the administrative management of the component.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

Silk Roads – was the outstanding way of facilitating the integration, exchange and dialogue between such region as China on the east, the Mediterranean on the west, and Indian on the south-west and contributing to the common prosperity of human civilizations of the region during almost two thousand years. It starts to function during the II century BC and continue to create conditions for the intercontinental trade until the end of the XV.

Chinese silk was one of the most valuable goods along the Silk Roads. However, there were many other goods traded along these roads: precious metals and stones, ceramics, perfumery, incense and spices, goods made of cotton and wool, glass, wine, amber, carpets and thoroughbred horses. This context of constant trade between the various civilizations existed during the centuries and supported by the system of caravanserais, trading centres, towns and fortresses, makes the Silk Roads one of the longest cultural routes in the history of humanity.

At the same time, the corridors of the Silk Roads transported not only the goods, but also religious beliefs (Buddhism, Judaism, Islam and Christianity, Zoroastrism and Manichaeism), scientific and technological achievements (paper, powder, magnetic compass and porcelain), engineering (for example the bridge buildings), medical and agricultural (for example the growing of cotton and grape vine) techniques and knowledge across the regions of Central Asia, Middle East, Mediterranean and West. The same road was also used by the diplomatic missions, establishing international contacts between different state and regions along the corridors of the Silk Roads.

Criterion (ii): The vastness of the Fergana-Syrdarya Corridor of the Silk Roads, the extremely long period of its functioning, the diversity of the archaeological heritage sites and the forms of cultural exchange, the variety of the geographical environments are its components, clearly demonstrates numerous extensive interactions along the Silk Roads, especially between the nomadic steppe region on the north and north-east and agricultural/oasis/pastoral region on the south and south-west. As a result, present corridor of the Silk Roads is a clear manifestation of the dynamic cultural interchange across the central part of the Eurasian Continent.

Criterion (iii): As all components of the Fergana-Syrdarya Corridor of the Silk Roads are the archaeological sites that were left abandoned for at least several centuries, they remained numerous pieces of evidence of the ancient cultural, economic and religious traditions. The active archaeological studies of these sites started in the second half of the XX century and continued in our days. Some of the most important cultural traditions demonstrated by the component sites of the Fergana-Syrdarya Corridor of the Silk Roads in Kazakhstan are the system of agricultural water canals used for the irrigation, the fortification constructions and the coexistence of different religions on the territory of urban settlements.

Criterion (v): All the components of the Fergana-Syrdarya Corridor of the Silk Roads are geographically situated on the territory of numerous river valleys. The courses of these rivers were constantly changing during the long period of functioning of the Silk Roads. As the result, the local communities get used to adapt their daily life, major economic activities and forms of urban development to the changes of the river courses. This outstanding form of interaction between the natural landscape and human life is well demonstrated by huge and complicated network of water facilities (canals, dumps, wells, reservoirs and cultivated fields).

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity


All the proposed components of the Fergana-Syrdarya Corridor of the Silk Roads are the objects of the active archaeological research activities that have proven the good state of the authenticity of all components. The natural factors that could have the negative impact of the site are the climate changes, erosion and out-washing of the soil, temperature drops. As for the anthropogenic factors, the main risks are related to the economic exploitation of the territory inside and around the nominated components, modern constructions and uncontrolled tourism and visiting of the sites. As far as the authorized state institutions provide the adequate management and monitoring of the state of conservation of the nominated sites, the property will correspond to the factor of authenticity. 


All the proposed components of the Fergana-Syrdarya Corridor of the Silk Roads situated on the territory of the Republic of Kazakhstan are huge urban commercial, economic and political centres on the way between the Fergana Valley and Zhetysu Region on the east and south-east, and the Aral Sea Region on the north-west. It includes all the most famous archaeological sites of the region that were studied by the archaeologists for several decades, as well as several sites that are studied only since the recent period of time. However, together these sites were playing the same important role for the functioning of the system of the Silk Road corridors by providing protection and trading industry to the commercial activities of the past. As the result, the proposed property corresponds to the required factor of the integrity.

In the future, particular attention should be given to several modern constructions (for example the auto-road near the architectural complex of Sauran) and restoration works that could have a potential negative impact on the integrity of the proposed components.

Comparison with other similar properties

The Serial Transnational World Heritage Nomination of the Silk Roads includes numerous participating state-parties, cultural corridors and component cultural heritage sites. All of them were historically contributing to the transmission of the economic, cultural and religious values across. However, the Fergana-Syrdarya Corridor has some following particularities that make it a special in comparison to other corridors and series of components of the Silk Roads: 

  • Location on the border of the nomadic and sedentary civilizations. The various forms of the intercultural exchange between these two very different worlds were much more intensive in comparison to other regions, where the interactions take place, for example, between two communities with the same economic practices.
  • Location in the middle of the Eurasian continent. This region experienced the active expansion of almost all major world religions that left numerous traces in the tangible culture of local communities.
  • Location on the territory with relatively limited water sources. As the result, local communities were have to adapt their economic activities on very harsh climatic conditions and produced very particular agricultural and water-managing practices, the remains of which were found in the proximity of all components of the property.

In the conclusion, the property named “Silk Roads: Fergana-Syrdarya Corridor” has a particular place among the other corridors of the Silk Roads.